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.

Posts Tagged ‘shelters’

The Weirdest Night of My Life’ — Counting the Homeless for the Census

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

There has been a shockingly small amount of media attention devoted to counting the nation’s homeless. Here’s a first person account that I discovered on the 2010 Census operation to count the homeless:

Being counted for the 2010 census is easy enough, so long as you have an actual home with an address.

But the many homeless Americans get counted the old-fashioned way: by a fresh-faced gang of folks in their 20s in bright orange vests who travel in packs, walking under bridges and into tent cities, even into the woods as part of their sworn duties.

We caught up with Trevor (whose actual name was changed to protect his job), a census worker who found himself part of the agency’s TNSOL initiative — which stands for “targeted non-shelter outdoor location,” and which means your first half-hour on the job could well involve running into your guide while he’s masturbating in an alley.

Read on for highlights from Trevor’s trip into the trenches of the TNSOL.

Strength in Numbers, and No Need for a Handshake
“It was absolutely the weirdest night of my life,” Trevor says of TNSOL, which took place on March 31 throughout the country.

Trevor, like the vast majority of census workers, is a temp who was hired by another temp, and trained by still others — all of which is to say that there was no real way for him to be properly prepared for what he was about to encounter.

When the night started, Trevor and his fellow workers — the team worked as a group of eight, which he suspects may have been out of a “strength in numbers” approach to work that has some obvious risks, rather than out of a true need for eight people to do the job — caught up with their homeless guide. Who was, in fact, masturbating in the alley they’d been told they’d find him in.

“It took me a little while to figure out what he was doing,” he said. “And at that point we were already on our way.”

Just a Few Simple Questions
Even with awkward introductions out of the way, Trevor says the weirdness was just beginning:

“We only had three questions that we had to answer to make it a complete form — their name, their age, and their race. A lot of people don’t really know how old they are. One girl filled it out herself after taking a hit from her crack pipe, and she got it all wrong. We had to fill that one out again. But it’s really interesting — a lot of people were really approachable, because it doesn’t happen often that some nice person walks up and says, ‘Hi, what’s your name?’ A lot of them wanted to talk to us, they were excited about just being treated like a person.”

“Can You Spare Some …”
If you don’t have a job that involves specifically working with homeless people, your experience with them is probably restricted to the basic: being asked for change. So we asked — did that happen to the census workers, too?

“Oh, yeah. But we’re not allowed to give it to them. I felt kind of bad. A lot of them just need some sane, human interaction, but some wanted to know what they were going to get out of this.”

“I had this one guy come up to me while we were waiting for a food van. He was really sweet, and he was telling me all about how he just wanted to go see his family, how he was an alcoholic, and he just needs help. He asked me if I could help him, and I said, ‘Just tell me what I can do.’ And he said, ‘Can you get me a beer?’ I told him, ‘No — we’re friends now, dude, and friends don’t listen to a friend tell you that they’re an alcoholic and then go get them a beer.’”

The “no bribery” rule was a mandate from Uncle Sam, but Trevor explained that his masturbating guide backed that up.

“There’s a different law among the homeless people,” he said. “You don’t want to go around just offering people things, because it’s disrespectful. Which is too bad,” he adds. “Because our big plan was to bring a bag of hamburgers, just in case we needed some extra help.”

Which is funny, because we hear the lack of free hamburgers is exactly why Glenn Beck and Michelle Bachmann urged their census boycott, too.

Feud over counting homeless escalates: Census employee fired after taking worries to Rep. Doggett

Sunday, April 4th, 2010

The following comes from Statesman.com:

By Andrea Ball and Suzannah Gonzales

AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF

U.S. Rep Lloyd Doggett has stepped into a dispute between Travis County officials and U.S. census leaders over how the area’s homeless population will be counted for the 2010 census.

For weeks, the groups have been sparring over the times, methods and manpower needed to tally the area’s estimated 4,000 people living in shelters, camps, cars and hotels. But that conflict escalated this week when a census employee called Doggett to say she had been fired for raising concerns about the safety and accuracy of the count.

On Friday, Doggett called U.S. Census Bureau Director Robert Groves in Washington.

“Director Groves promised me he would investigate both the employee’s firing and review the best practices to accurately count the homeless,” Doggett said in a statement Friday.

Census officials across the country plan to count the homeless on three days: On Monday, workers will tally people in shelters. On Tuesday, they’ll count people at mobile food kitchens. And early Wednesday, they’ll head outside to camps and public places such as bridges and sidewalks.

It’s the Wednesday effort that has caused the most friction locally.

That count is planned for midnight to 7 a.m., a time local homeless advocates deem unsafe for census employees. Critics also say the census is not providing enough people or allowing enough time to ensure an accurate count.

“To count thousands of people over seven hours is unrealistic,” said Travis County Constable Bruce Elfant, a member of the Austin-Travis County Complete Count Committee. “This isn’t like going door to door.”

A faulty count would mean losing out on millions of dollars in federal money.

On Friday, Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe and Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell sent a letter to a regional census official detailing their concerns about counting the homeless.

“Your own Census staffers estimate that the homeless population could be undercounted by as much as 40%,” the letter states. “This would mean 1,000 or more homeless residents would not be counted in Travis County, resulting in the loss of more than $15,000,000 to our community.”

Jeff Behler, deputy regional director for the U.S. Census Bureau, said the late-night hours were determined “because, in the research that was done by our staff, it was determined that would be the best time in which that population would be the least transient.”

Local leaders proposed holding an additional daytime event Thursday at the Palmer Events Center with food, music and giveaways for those who came to fill out the census forms. Census leaders said no, Elfant said.

“There appears to be very little wiggle room for communities that want to try innovative things,” Elfant said. “It’s been frustrating.”

Homeless advocates also worry that census takers could get hurt wandering into the greenbelts and wooded areas that late at night. David Gomez, who works with the homeless for Austin Travis County Integral Care, said homeless people could be sleeping, drunk, high on drugs or otherwise impaired.

In a memo obtained by the American-Statesman, U.S. Census Bureau employee Lisa Bayliff agreed.

“There are camps that have barbed wire stretched about 3-4 inches from the ground to trip intruders from easy access,” she wrote. “There are camps that are known meth labs; they have signs posted around the perimeter to warn people to go away … The timing of the operation is flawed and is willingly placing all Census employees at peril.”

Census takers, who will be wearing reflective vests and carrying flashlights, have been told not to wake up sleeping people, Behler said. They will travel in groups, try not to startle people and clearly communicate their intent, Behler said.

Earlier this month, Bayliff took her concerns to the Austin congressman, Doggett spokeswoman Sarah Dohl said.

But this week, Bayliff contacted the office to say she had been fired for speaking to Doggett, Dohl said. That prompted Doggett to call Grove.

Bayliff declined to comment. Jenna Steormann Arnold, spokeswoman for the U.S. Census Bureau in Central Texas, said she could not talk about specifics of the case.

“Yes, she no longer works for the Census Bureau, but since it is a personnel issue that deals with confidential information, we cannot discuss it,” she said.

The Salvation Army vs. The Census Bureau

Saturday, March 6th, 2010

On Friday, MyTwoCensus obtained a Salvation Army directive (click HERE for it) that details the circumstances in which the religious/charitable organization will and will not be cooperating with the Census Bureau. Highlights from the directive are as follows:

- Census takers will not be permitted to visit “group quarters” like Adult Rehabilitation Centers, Harbor Light Centers, transient lodges, residential facilities for children, and other temporary housing facilities “such as shelters for men, women, or families, in which the confidentiality of the beneficiaries is important to, and maintained by, the Salvation Army.”

- Though the Census Bureau wants to count individuals at “soup kitchens” and mobile food vans, the Salvation Army will NOT allow the Census Bureau to enter such facilities due to confidentiality concerns. Census-takers will be directed to contact the Salvation Army’s national headquarters and/or their legal counsel.