Last week, I volunteered as part of the Homeless Vulnerability Index (PDF), a method of determining which Hartford-area homeless were at the greatest risk. Based on the information gathered, those with the greatest need would be helped first. The project involved searching for the homeless in the early morning hours over two days, and visiting homeless shelters in the city in order to administer a survey. I was part of the latter effort at a shelter called Immaculate Conception, temporary home to about 80 men.
My first reaction was astonishment at the friendless and high spirits of the men I interviewed. While I expected them be guarded and reticent, they were remarkably candid in speaking about their history on the streets, where they typically slept, their medical conditions and how they made money. Since five of us had to survey all of the men over just three hours, I was disappointed that I didn’t have time to ask follow-up questions outside the scope of the study. I wanted to understand more about how they became homeless, what they did during the day and what was most difficult about their situations.
Ultimately, it was a touching and deeply fulfilling experience, particularly the results. An organization called Journey Home is now focusing on the 40 most vulnerable individuals of those surveyed, with the remaining 115 classified as “vulnerable” next in line for help finding housing. I’m already looking to volunteer again doing something similar, hopefully with the same group of men.