Feb 01, 2013

Jake Maguire's picture Posted By Jake Maguire

Counting Them One By One: A Volunteer's Story

Over 8,000 volunteers have participated in 100,000 Homes Registry Weeks across the country since the Campaign launched in 2010. We often get asked to describe the experience to others, but we'd rather let you hear it firsthand from a participant. This guest blog, written by Tera Yacobacci-Hare of the Neighborhood Services Organization, details her personal experience as a Registry Week participant last week in Oklahoma City:

The 100 Thousand Homes Campaign is a national movement to house chronically homeless individuals in different communities. Oklahoma City has joined this movement and I, along with the other members of the housing department here at NSO, took to the streets for three mornings with dozens of other volunteers to survey and hopefully identify those who are chronically homeless in our community. This meant waking up at 3 a.m so we could be out walking the streets by 4 a.m. We were broken into 15 teams, with 5 or 6 volunteers per team who had a designated area of the city to survey.
When I was first told that I would be taking part in this operation, I was nervous and many were nervous for me. Some teased me, saying that I was too small and helpless to be taking part in such a thing. The thought of all 5 foot 1 inch of me going out in the darkness to wake up homeless people who were sleeping out on the cold pavement, in tents, and under bridges seemed unsafe for me and very traumatic for them, but the police officers that we had by our side reassured me that it was safe and the effort was worth it.
After the first day I felt a bit discouraged. It was very cold and very early and no one we found was interested in taking part in a survey even if we had McDonald’s gift cards and hand knitted hats as participation incentives. On the second day we went back to the same men we had found sleeping at an old gas station the morning before and tried again, this time with more luck. They seemed thankful for the hats and excited about the McDonald’s gift cards. One man even told us he was going to treat his friend to breakfast. By the third day we had found a man in a tent, people living in cars, and others sleeping under bridges who were willing to talk with us about their experience living on the street. Some had only been out there for a few months whereas others said they had been homeless for as long as 25 years which is longer than I have been alive. Hearing that made me feel silly for complaining about being cold for two hours and having to wake up early.
In the three days that we took part in this, 383 individuals agreed to participate in the survey, 70 of which were Veterans.  
This experience is one that I will never forget. It is a wake-up call that something needs to be done to help these people. It makes you realize how lucky you are to have a support system around you and a place to call home. I am so thankful for the opportunity and I cannot wait to hear how many people they get housed over the course of the year. 
Special thanks to Tera for sharing her experience, and a big thank you to all the volunteers in more than 30 communities who participated in Registry Weeks this month.