[Hpn] Bay Area homeless advocates say census data shows undercount

chance martin streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Wed, 31 Oct 2001 11:32:37 -0800


San Jose Mercury News

Bay Area homeless advocates say census data shows undercount

Posted at 9:48 p.m. PST Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2001
Mercury News 

The U.S. Census Bureau released figures Tuesday showing that the number of
people living in homeless shelters has declined nationally, statewide and in
some Bay Area counties -- but homeless advocates say the numbers are a
significant undercount.

Advocates denounced the data as limited and flawed because it does not
include the number of homeless people living in the streets, a number the
Census Bureau decided not to release.

Another shortcoming of the survey, homeless advocates said, was that it
excluded shelters with fewer than 100 beds.

Many advocates said the numbers don't reflect what they see in their
shelters. The new statistics said that between 1990 and 2000, the shelter
population declined by 4 percent nationally, 10 percent in California and by
26 percent in Santa Clara County.

``Those numbers don't make sense,'' said Margaret Gregg, homeless concerns
coordinator for Santa Clara County. ``Somebody didn't finish their count.''

Various homeless agencies across the country asked the U.S. Census Bureau to
withhold the numbers.

The Census Bureau gathered the data over three days last March, visiting a
sampling of large shelters in each state.

Small shelters excluded

The bureau excluded smaller shelters such as the one run by the First
Christian Church of San Jose -- Disciples of Christ, which serves about 45
clients a night.

``How can it be that the number of people using shelters is declining?''
said Trish Crowder, executive director of the San Jose Family Shelter, which
houses mothers and children.

Elsewhere in the Bay Area, the number of homeless people using shelters
declined by 62 percent in San Francisco County, 11 percent in Santa Cruz
County and 41 percent in San Mateo County. In Alameda County, it grew by 3

Gregg, the Santa Clara County homeless concerns coordinator, dismissed the
idea that the 1990s economic boom might explain the drop in the shelter

``Some people might say that these numbers speak to the theory that when
some boats rise, all boats rise,'' she said. ``But the people I deal with
were in boats that didn't rise.''

Santa Clara County fills each of its 2,490 shelter beds nightly and must
turn away scores of people, Gregg said.

In its report on the data, the Census Bureau acknowledged the difficulties
in using traditional methods to count homeless people, and conceded that
special methods must be developed to count the homeless accurately.

Not a complete picture

The Census Bureau, however, repeatedly cautioned that the new data does not
provide a complete picture of homelessness.

According to the new data, the number of homeless people in San Francisco
shelters declined by 62 percent. In San Jose, the number declined by 7
percent. In contrast however, Oakland's number grew by 61 percent; Los
Angeles' by 40 percent.

Paul Boden, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness San
Francisco, said the wide disparities in these numbers underscore the census
method of counting the shelter population over one night. Counting over a
long period of time would have given them a more accurate picture, he said.

Although census takers went to soup kitchens, mobile food vans, under
bridges and other locations where the homeless congregate, the Census Bureau
decided not to release those numbers.

``We felt it was extremely limited because of the limited number of sites,''
said Ediston Gore, a Census Bureau statistician.

Gore said the Census Bureau acknowledges the limitations of the figures that
were released Tuesday and does so throughout its report accompanying the
Contact Jessie Mangaliman at jmangaliman@sjmercury.com or (408) 920-5794).

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