On Monday, January 28th, Ben Frisch’s Statistics class was offered the opportunity to help the NYC Department of Homeless Services conduct the Homeless Outreach Population Estimate (HOPE). HOPE relies on thousands of volunteers to canvass parks, subways, and other public spaces to count the number of people living unsheltered in the city. The information gathered by volunteers during HOPE 2013 is critical to the city’s ongoing efforts to fight homelessness.These figures help determine need and establish progrms and budget allocations. The annual survey also helps the Mayor’s office track the stats of homelessness in our city.
Our task was to patrol assigned blocks in groups of three, asking census questions to each person we came into contact with, and recording those results for the information of the HOPE Foundation. All answers were confidential, unless the interviewee at hand needed help. To add to the excitement of this project, the survey was to be conducted at night, between the hours of 12 AM to 4 AM.
We showed up at our assigned Greenwich Village training location at 11 PM and learned more about the nature of the program, how to ask our questions, and what to do if we found ourselves in dangerous situations. Volunteers were to disperse throughout the city, to all five boroughs. At midnight, we took the subway to our assigned Midtown locations and got to work. This task was especially pertinent to our Stats class because we’d been learning about what characterized a proper, fair sample and how to a simple, random one. We knew the importance of the census data we were planning on taking, so we wanted our sample to be as unbiased as possible with a very low margin of error. All people needed to have equal chance to be chosen for the census questions. We knew we needed to avoid bias (or false values based on polling choices) by sticking to our proper routes and not simply conducting surveys based on our own convenience. We knew we needed to ask each person the survey questions, no matter whether or not we thought we could tell in advance if they were homeless. Those would have been some sources of bias that we were wary of avoiding.
The actual conducting of the survey proved very interesting. Though we walked in the cold for over 3 hours at night, the work was enjoyable. As we were in a sketchy neighborhood at a sketchy time, my favorite part was talking to people I was initially nervous talking to. I liked seeing how gentle, charismatic, and nice strangers on the street were when I asked them questions and how willing they were to help out with our project. Though I hope not to be walking through Midtown at 3:30 AM any time soon, I feel as if I conquered some sense of fear through this project. The results of our data will help the city account for what more they can do to aid the issue of homelessness, so I know our work was beneficial. The loss of sleep was worth it for the edifying experience of conducting this survey at night. I particularly enjoyed the connections to what I had been learning all semester in class. It was great having a chance to see Stats played out in the real world.