Shadow Count FAQs

Q: What is Shadow Count?

A: Shadow Count is an evaluation of the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) HOPE 2018 Count – an annual point-in-time count of individuals experiencing homelessness who are unsheltered in New York City. During the HOPE Count, DHS sends thousands of volunteers, also called “enumerators”, to canvass the streets and subways.

Shadow Count recruits “decoys” to be planted in street and subway locations throughout New York City. Whether or not the decoys are found by the HOPE volunteers helps determine the accuracy of the count. This information is used in planning, resource allocation, and in measuring the performance of programs that aim to end homelessness.


Q: When is the count?

A: The count takes place overnight from Monday, January 28th into Tuesday, January 29th. Official count hours are 12am – 4am. Decoys are to check in at their staging locations by 10pm on January 28th.


Q: What if it rains or snows?

A: DHS is responsible for deciding if the Count is postponed due to inclement weather. Check online or call the Shadow Count hotline the day of the Count for postponement updates. The “rain date” is scheduled for February 11-12, 2019 if DHS postpones the HOPE Count.


Q: If I have been a decoy before, do I need to go to another decoy training this year?

A: Yes, all decoys are required to attend one training every year they participate.


Q: Is there any compensation for being a decoy?

A: Decoys are paid an $85 stipend. Payment requires a social security card and photo ID.


Q: If I live in Brooklyn, can I be at a site in Brooklyn?

A: We assign decoys to locations based on where unsheltered homeless people have been found on previous counts throughout all five boroughs, including inside subways. We cannot guarantee where you will be located. Sites are assigned on a first come, first serve basis.


Q: I want to do the count, but I don’t have anyone to do it with. Will I be assigned a partner?

A: Yes. All decoys are deployed with a partner. If you come alone, we will arrange a partner for you. If you come with someone, you can partner together. Decoys are deployed in teams of 2 only. If there is a third person in your group, the third person will be placed with another individual.


Q: How long does it take for most people to get found by HOPE volunteers?

A: This depends on your location and the HOPE enumerators. Decoys must be at their designated location by midnight and stay until 4:00 a.m. or until both decoys are counted. Some decoy pairs are found within an hour and some are not found at all and need to wait until the end of the count at 4:00 a.m. Decoys must be prepared to sit unsheltered until that time.


Q: What is the night of the count like?

A: At your training, you will be assigned to a staging area that will serve as your home base on the night of the count. Your staging area may be in Manhattan or another borough, depending on need. You must arrive to your assigned staging area by 10:00 p.m. Everyone signs in and is assigned a captain and partner (if you don’t have one). It is important to bring a fully charged cell phone in order to stay in contact with your captain throughout the night. Everyone needs to leave the staging site with enough time to arrive at their “decoy location” before midnight.

Once you are in your assigned assignment area, you must stay in that location with your partner until both decoys are counted, until one decoy is counted and the enumerators have not returned within thirty minutes to count your partner, or until the count is over at 4 a.m.


Q: Is this safe?

A: People will be assigned to neighborhoods and subway stations across the city in all five boroughs. There are trainings and procedures designed to maximize safety. However, you will be spending several hours outside on the streets or in the subways, so make sure to dress warmly, stay alert, and check in with your captain regularly.


Q: How long does payment usually take?

A: We submit your paperwork right after the count. Generally, checks are received within two months.

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