By TJ Johnston
The 2010 Census could help address one of the thorniest problems in dealing with San Francisco’s long-standing homeless problem — getting an accurate head count.
The city’s homeless figures have ranged between about 6,500 and 8,600 people in the last decade, but the real number is anybody’s guess. The sketchy knowledge of who is living on the street has been a big impediment to perennial attempts to solve the crisis.
Temporary census workers will spend three days at the end of March interviewing homeless people at their usual gathering places, including shelters, soup kitchens, parks and highway underpasses. The census workers will ask questions similar to those asked of people who do not reply to questionnaires delivered to households.
The official number of homeless people in the city matters because it can potentially affect the number of representatives for state and federal legislative because they’re drawn based on population. It also impacts federal, state and city grants for social service programs for the homeless.
Part of the problem has been that for each count, the methodology changes, and so does number of workers and time dedicated to the count. These tallies have been conducted by the city and an array of private nonprofit service and advocacy groups, each with its own political agenda and definitions of homelessness.
Politicians and advocacy groups have also been known to use different numbers depending on the audience. And no one in the government is quite sure of the real number.
“Part of it has to do with conflicts between academic estimates of the homeless population and community and activist estimates,” said Chris Bettinger, who teaches sociology at San Francisco State University.
Bettinger said the Census Bureau, which has only been including homeless people in its counts since 1980, could not guarantee that this year’s numbers will be definitive, or even better than other methods. The advantages are that the counting of the homeless across the country will be somewhat standardized and conducted by paid staff, not volunteers.
Posts Tagged ‘Bay Area’
In recent editorials, MyTwoCensus has questioned the effectiveness of the U.S. Census Bureau’s outreach efforts. However, today, at San Francisco’s Israel in the Gardens celebration, I was able to witness firsthand the effectiveness of highly qualified partnership specialist Pnina Levermore as she communicated with hundreds of members of the Bay Area community who don’t necessarily speak English as their first language. As a long-time employee of Russian and Jewish community organizations in the Bay Area, Levermore is a huge asset to the Census Bureau. I watched as she bounced between English and Russian, fielding inquiries from children as young as five to octogenarians (who have surely lived through many decennial headcounts), answering all questions asked of her with accuracy and care.
Levermore went so far as to create her own Russian language handout about the 2010 Census (we have been told that the Census Bureau will have their own national handouts printed in many languages soon) to distribute at this event.
The Census Bureau should continue to hire highly skilled people like Levermore. Many of the millions of Americans who applied for jobs at the Census Bureau speak more than one language, but hiring someone who has a deep knowledge of the community he/she will be assisting as well as the foreign language skills that he/she will be using on the job is of the utmost importance. We urge the local and regional 2010 Census offices to hire partnership specialists based on intangible factors that won’t necessarily show up on job applications and will only be revealed after in-person interviews and carefully examining individuals’ personalities.
We applaud the San Francisco 2010 Census Office for hiring someone like Levermore and we hope that other offices around the country will follow suit with similar practices.