My Two Census

Formerly the non-partisan watchdog of the 2010 US Census, and currently an opinion blog that covers all things political, media, foreign policy, globalization, and culture…but sometimes returning to its census/demographics roots.

Fake Homeless People Used As Decoys in Census

Today, we picked up a news brief from the Philadelphia Metro that told a horror story: People in Toronto, Canada were paid to act homeless as 2009 Census counts were being taken, ostensibly to boost the amount of money that Toronto received from Canada’s federal government. Uh-oh. Let’s hope shenanigans on par with that don’t occur in America, but with so many public officials desperate to show high counts, we at MyTwoCensus wouldn’t be surprised if American municipalities tried to use similar illegal tactics. Here’s a more detailed  report that we found about the Toronto situation from the National Post:

When volunteers venture into Toronto’s streets to survey the homeless next month, some of those approached to answer questions will be planted decoys carrying $100 prepaid Visa cards.

The city admitted yesterday that about 50 fake homeless people will be planted among the real homeless in order to bolster the statistical validity of the results.

But some councillors questioned yesterday why the city is giving money to pretend street people rather than those who need it.

“My first reaction is, ‘Wouldn’t you be better off giving that amount to an actual homeless person so they can get something to eat or some clothes or something?’ ” wondered councillor Peter Milczyn (Etobicoke Lakeshore).

“That’s probably a good point,” said Pat Anderson, a spokeswoman for Toronto’s department of Shelter, Support and Housing.

But she explained the $100 cards are simply compensation for about 350 of the approximately 1,000 survey takers who will go out on Toronto streets and visit shelters April 15 to assess the needs of the homeless.

She said the results of the first such census the city took in 2006 helped improve services aimed at people living on the streets or in shelters.

About $100,000 is set aside for the second study, including $35,000 to compensate those conducting the survey, Ms. Anderson said. Of those, 300 are team leaders who have more responsibility and 50 are the so-called decoys, who will be present on streets but not in shelters.

Councillor Janet Davis (Beaches East York), chairwoman of the community development and recreation committee, said the mandate of the volunteers is to get an accurate reading of how many people they approach are homeless.

“The audit volunteers are supposed to go and speak with and interview everyone, whether they look homeless or whether they’re wearing a suit and tie, whether they’re lying in a sleeping bag on the ground,” she said.

“That would capture all of the control group and the decoys as well.”

The first question is whether the person has a place to stay that night.

If the answer is yes, the subject is sent on their way. If the answer is no, a survey of needs is conducted, Ms. Davis said.

The control group, however, is supposed to answer the questions anyhow, then give a sticker to the surveyor at the end showing they are among the plants.

Ms. Davis said the methodology was designed by academics who are experts on statistics.

“It’s an important mechanism to ensure the statistical reliability of the overall results,” she said. “If it’s discovered that some of the decoys or the control group were not interviewed, then the overall results will be adjusted accordingly. Because we can then assume that some of the overall [homeless] population was missed as well. It’s a quality-assurance measure.”