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Homeless Outreach Steers Manhattan's Severely Needy Away From The Streets

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About 300 volunteers from the "Don't Walk By" initiative braved Saturday night's cold to try to get Lower Manhattan's homeless out of the streets and into local churches to get warm meals and information on social services. NY1's Mahsa Saeidi filed the following report.

On winter's coldest days, one group of New Yorkers is especially at risk: the homeless. That is why Belvin Williams, along with 300 other volunteers, hit the streets Saturday night to walk every block of Lower Manhattan this weekend. Their campaign, named "Don't Walk By," is put together by a group of faith-based organizations.

"It's the worst month for homeless people. It's the worst month," said volunteer Belvin Williams.

The volunteers wanted to give Lower Manhattan's homeless the opportunity to change their lives and prevent the worst-case scenario.

"I remember a few years back we had a guy his name was Tracy and we kept trying to get him off the streets, saying 'Come inside, come inside.' It's a very sad story, Tracy would not accept any help and Tracy actually froze to death, literally froze to death," Williams said.

Since 2009, thousands of volunteers have found the homeless on the streets, handed out essentials and invited them to a church for a warm meal. While there, men, women, and children are provided with clothing, shoes, health care services and information about residential programs.

"I've been working with the homeless for about 20 years, and the reality is it's a crisis in our city," said Brian Johansson, the vice president of Bowery Mission.

The crisis hits close to home for volunteer Spencer Gaynes.

"I've been on the streets for over 10 years doing drugs, drinking and drugging and my life wasn't going nowhere," Gaynes said.

Then, in 2009, Gaynes walked into the Bowery Mission, and he says he has been off drugs ever since. Now he works at the mission as a driver and frequently helps reach out to those in need.

"Today and I'm feeling good about it too, I am giving back because I'm helping pick up the homeless from the streets," said Gaynes.

About 200 homeless people were approached Saturday night, and about 120 went to the church for help.

"Don't Walk By" is a four-week long campaign. Those who want to participate in the next outreach on Saturday, February 23, based out of East Side Trinity Baptist Church, can get more information at dontwalkby.org.

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