It was even earlier than the early shift as dozens of volunteers, City officials and state officials filed into the Chelsea Police Station on Thursday morning – some time just after 3:30 a.m.
The goal was to complete the first-ever Chelsea Homelessness Count – an effort championed by Rev. Sandra Whitley of the People’s AME Church and the Project Opening Doors in Chelsea volunteers. It was officially sanctioned by the state and by City Manager Tom Ambrosino.
In the end, some 14 men were found and counted – all of which were offered services and help if they wanted it.
For Ambrosino, the first count was inspirational.
“I know we had expected to find between 15 and 20 and we found 14 throughout the city, though there are some we could have missed,” he said. “We are trying now to provide services to these folks, but frankly some don’t want any services. In that case, we make sure we can help them with blankets and gear to survive the cold weather. I was very surprised in a happy way at the numbers of volunteers there who went in the middle of the night to help us. It’s another example of the great spirit of this community that continues to amaze me. I am so impressed with the amount of people here who want to come out and try to do good.”
Whitley said she was grateful for the volunteers as well and deemed the first effort a success – noting that the numbers found were reported to the state agency, as were other similar efforts in Boston and other locales last week. The annual homelessness survey is carried out annually in the last week of January all over the nation.
“I thank the Lord for 25 volunteers showing up and getting engaged,” she said. “I was in my zone with others of like-mindedness — people helping others with a good spirit about it all. I had a wonderful time with Chelsea family coming together around what we can do to help somebody, in this case the homeless. Of course, the City Manager and city leadership support and presence made it all the more worthwhile because they are in the position of making decisions on how to genuinely put faces to and find ways to help the less fortunate…Chelsea cares about those less fortunate than ourselves.”
Before filing out onto the streets to find the homeless individuals living out in the elements in places such as under the Tobin Bridge or on the waterfront or in certain alleyways, volunteers took a training course. They were also instructed to let the homeless they encounter know that there are services available.
Not only does the state offer services and shelter from the cold, but also the City is now getting into providing such services to help folks who want to get off the streets.
In the community room of the police station, 25 volunteers divided up into groups of six, named Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo, and Foxtrot. They practiced asking the pertinent questions and also how to make sure they were safe above all things.
From around 5 a.m. to 6:30 a.m., the teams searched the areas that the homeless within the city are known to congregate and to sleep.
Two men were observed and counted, while 12 men were interviewed for the official survey.
Volunteers and coordinators plan to schedule a meeting afterward to discuss the methods used and organize for next year’s effort.