The U.S. Census helps determine how many representatives a state is allotted and also how federal money is apportioned. (Courtesy photo)

2020 Census takers preparing for challenges in reaching homeless populations

Shelter-in-place orders could make it hard to count vulnerable individuals

While responding to the 2020 census online or by mail may be easy for the millions of Bay Area residents abiding by the shelter-in-place order enacted due to COVID-19, census takers are adjusting their outreach for the homeless population, which was already at risk of not being included before this pandemic.

United Way Bay Area (UWBA) is partnering with local non-profits and community organizations to administer the 2020 U.S. Census. The national population survey, which takes place every 10 years, helps determine how many congressional seats each state gets, and how federal funds will flow into states and communities.

Stephanie Kim, United Way Bay Area’s senior director for the 2020 Census, said in a media web conference Tuesday that the safety and well being of census takers and their staff comes first and that local partners should be following guidelines set in place by their county’s public health departments.

As a result, many of the Questionnaire Assistance Kiosks or Centers (QAK/QAC) are closing their physical locations, and events planned to amplify outreach and responses have been canceled.

Webcasts will replace these events. Phone banking, door hangers, and flyer distribution will be conducted instead of canvassing and assistance will be offered over the phone rather than in person.

People experiencing homelessness, already among the most marginalized in the Bay Area, are at high risk of becoming more marginalized as in-person outreach is scaled down drastically. If they aren’t accounted for, then it will decrease their representation in government and the amount of federal resources they get access to.

“The people who are the hardest to count have the most to lose,” said Julia Marks, a staff attorney at Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus.

The U.S. Census announced Tuesday that its mobile questionnaire assistance program is being delayed from March 30 to April 13, and the early non-response follow-up is also being pushed back two weeks, from April 9 to April 23.

While operations such as outreach to individuals experiencing homelessness will be extended, the July 31 deadline for completion of response collection as of now is not expected to get pushed back.

In addition to the $187 million dollars in funding that have already been distributed by United Way Bay Area, at least an additional $400,000 dollars is available via grant applications for local partners who need to adjust their outreach.

Service providers including soup kitchens and homeless shelters, and administrators for group living populations, including college students, nursing homes and other facilities are being asked to choose ways to count residents with minimal in-person contact.

College students who are living at home because their dorm has been shut down will still be counted as if they are living on campus.

UWBA encourages people to be wary of spam, and not respond to requests for money, personal information or anyone threatening to arrest them if they don’t complete the census.

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