Census plan for counting homeless people & race criticized FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Fri, 30 Jul 1999 22:48:16 -0700 (PDT)

FWD  Associated Press - Thursday, July 29, 1999


     Louinn Lota, Associated Press Writer

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- U.S. Census officials have created an unprecedented
category on the 2000 census form for people of mixed ethnicity to check and
have put together a new plan of attack for counting the homeless.

Use of the new ``some other race'' category marks the first time that
multi-ethnic people can write in their own many ethnicities instead of
having to pick one category and ignore others to which they may also belong.

A sample form was displayed at a census forum Wednesday evening at the
Simon Wiesenthal Center, where census officials announced the new category
and their homeless-counting plans.

The new form still designates particular races, such as Spanish, Black and
Asian and Pacific Islander, but includes a multitude of subcategories
including spaces for American Indian respondents to list the tribe to which
they belong.

But the census form now allows participants to write in their own ethnicity
at the ``some other race'' category if it isn't included, said Anthony
Greno, a census manager specializing in Hispanic issues.

Geraldine R. Washington, president of Los Angeles Branch of the NAACP, said
she was concerned that counting racially mixed people in the generic
``other'' category strips them of the benefits of being counted in the
census, such as political power and federal aid.

It was not immediately clear how the ``other'' category will be considered
by federal authorities who rely on census figures.

``Race is the key to implementing many federal programs. It is also a legal
and political key as far as civil rights monitoring and compliance,'' she

Also Wednesday, Census officials announced their plans to count the
homeless in the category labeled ``without conventional housing'' -- a
practice that started in the 1990 census.

Homeless activists criticized the bureau's plans and blamed the agency's
bureaucracy for the lack of an accurate homeless count in 1990, after which
time a homeless figure was never released.

``If we're supposed to count every American, what do they consider homeless
people? Are we not Americans?'' said Michael Neely, director of the
Homeless Outreach Program, a group that serves transients on downtown Skid

``Because the census bureau never published a (homelessness) figure, we
never have been able to say how big the problem is and where resources
should be allocated,'' he added.

Kem Worley, an assistant regional census manager for Southern California,
acknowledged problems in the 1990 census data collection, including the
fact that they only counted the homeless if there were at least 15 people
living in one location together.

He said census-takers will now count the homeless on an individual basis.

``We made some mistakes. We'll be the first to admit that,'' he said.
``This time we're going to soup kitchens we're going to shelters and we're
going to community based facilities.''

The advocates criticized the bureau's current plan to count the homeless
only from 4 a.m. to 7 a.m. during one day before or on April 1, 2000, which
is the official start of the census.

``You're not going to find very many people during that time,'' Neely said.
``What if it's cold? Some of the things the U.S. Census does are very odd.''

That plan may change and promised the census bureau will increase
cooperation with homeless-advocacy groups and hire actual homeless people
to act as census-takers, Worley said.

The forum was sponsored by the City of Los Angeles Census 2000 Outreach
Project and the Community Newspaper Council. It was attended by about 50
people, many of them journalists and social activists.


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