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Mayor De Blasio, Volunteers Fan Out Across NYC To Count Number Of Homeless Living On The Streets

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Mayor Bill de Blasio, along with thousands of volunteers, hit the streets across New York City for a federally mandated homeless count.

Three-thousand volunteers spent one of the coldest mornings of the year Tuesday tracking the homeless living outside in 28 degree temperatures in Union Square, CBS2's Ilana Gold reported.

"The reason why I volunteer is because I care," Darlene Redish told Gold. "I see a lot of homeless on the street and it breaks my heart to see that."

Volunteers found a woman who had been staying in the subway and offered her help finding a shelter.

"She said no, she preferred to go and sit in a Dunkin' Donuts where she can have coffee and stay the night," volunteer Joseph Tembo said.

It's a common problem plaguing the city and the mayor saw it for himself, spending an hour along 31st Street in Midtown where he recorded nearly two dozen homeless people.

It's the first time a New York City mayor has been part of the homeless count, which is led by the U.S. Department of Housing.

De Blasio has faced heavy criticism for how he's handled the city's homeless crisis. CBS2 has previously reported on the homeless living at LaGuardia Airport and even taking baths at the Columbus Circle fountain.

"You can tell this from the people we talked to folks with mental health challenges, folks who have been resistant to shelter, we want to figure out what's going to get them to some place better," de Blasio said. "It's deeply troubling but not surprising."

The purpose of the so-called HOPE Count is to get a scope of the issue then help the city find ways to get the homeless off the streets.

"We're going to have to dedicate the resources and also pursue the right policies to drive down the numbers of folks who are on the street," Housing Secretary Julian Castro said.

The number from the latest count will be released in the next few months and they're expected to be higher than last year's.

Last year's count was nearly 3,200, that number was down 5 percent from the previous year.

State and city elected officials from Manhattan's Upper East Side have formed a task force to combat homelessness in the district.

City Council Member Ben Kallos said he was surprised when a recent survey on district needs showed Upper East Side residents' number one complaint was homelessness and panhandling on the streets.

"That was a real awakener," Kallos told WCBS 880's Stephanie Colombini.

Kallos said the task force will pool resources from city and state agencies, nonprofits and religious institutions to provide targeted assistance to the homeless community on the east side.

"We're hoping this can be a model for other neighborhoods," Kallos said.

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