A launch event for the SF Counts 2020 Census campaign was held on Jan. 20, 2020. (Courtesy Minoosh Zomorodinia)

Everyone counts as deadline for Census 2020 approaches

Officials ramping up efforts to ensure funding, political representation

Officials are ramping up their efforts in the 2020 census headcount as a Sept. 30 deadline for data collection approaches.

“We need every resident in San Francisco to do the census now because that ensures jobs, housing opportunities and programs for families and communities,” said Adrienne Pon, the executive director of the San Francisco Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs.

“Being counted ensures our fair share of federal dollars [and] also fair political representation,” she continued.

The state announced Monday that it has devoted more than $10 million to following up with people who did not respond to the census, doubling down on areas with low response rates through phone and text banking, along with door knocking operations.

“In California, our communities could lose up to $10,000 in funding for every person who is not counted before Sept. 30,” said Stephanie Kim, the senior director of Census 2020 at United Way Bay Area, the organization coordinating outreach efforts.

“Census takers ultimately are trying to help complete that count and get our communities the funding and representation that we need,” she continued. “A lot of folks have just been closing their doors to census takers. But it helps all of us if you talk to them and give them what they need. We’re trying to remind folks that census takers are under oath to keep everyone’s data confidential.”

The number of households that self-responded to the census in San Francisco is 64.4 percent as of Thursday, which is about four percent short of The City’s final self-response rate in 2010. According to Kim, neighborhoods in The City that are hardest to count include the Bayview-Hunters Point, Mission, Tenderloin, Lakeshore and SoMa neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, the self-response rates of Marin, San Mateo, Contra Costa, Alameda and Santa Clara counties have reached more than 70 percent as of Thursday, exceeding their self-response rates in 2010.

“The fact that the Bay Area response rate is this high, despite everything that’s going on, is a testament to the outreach work that has been done by our network of community partners,” Kim said.

The self-response rate in California is 67.6 percent, which was more than 2 percent higher than the national average of 65.3 percent as of Thursday.

Challenges still lay ahead as the United States Census Bureau has set a shortened timeline to collect data. While officials previously had extended the deadline of census count to October 31 from July 31 in response to COVID-19, they subsequently changed the deadline to the end of September.

“This ultimately will shortchange communities that have been historically under-counted and are at a high risk of being missed again, namely people of color, American Indians, low-income people, people with disabilities [and] people who are experiencing homelessness,” Kim said.

The Census Bureau will send the apportionment count, numbers used to determine the proportionate number of seats in the House of Representatives among 50 states, to the president by Dec. 31.

Kim said San Francisco’s housing situation during the pandemic, among other reasons, has made it more difficult for officials to accurately collect data. People have been displaced during the pandemic as they have lost their incomes and jobs. Others have moved out of The City as they are working remotely.

Nationally, the number of people who have become unhoused has increased, Kim said. While the Census Bureau is identifying service providers, such as shelters and food distribution sites, for people who are unhoused in order to count the population, she noted that those experiencing homelessness for the first time may be unaware of these services.

The Census Bureau will also send census takers to encampments to count the unhoused population, Kim said, but some people may be sleeping in cars and places outside of the identified encampments.

Meanwhile, service providers in the Bay Area are reminding unhoused people about the census, pointing out that census takers are not connected to law enforcement and that everyone counts regardless of where they’re from, according to Kim.

The rhetoric of the Trump Administration has also swayed some people against filling out the census, she said. The administration proposed to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, and dropped its attempt last year.

“Unfortunately, it has left some lasting damage in immigrant communities,” Kim said. “There are certain people you will talk to today who will still think that the citizenship question is on the census. That is enough to deter them.”

The Trump Administration issued a memo in July to exclude unauthorized immigrants from the apportionment count which is facing legal challenges against its directive.

Meanwhile, the Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs and its community partners have reached more than 800,000 residents since July 2019 in their efforts to motivate people to complete the census, according to Pon.

Since the first shelter-in-place order in March, Pon said the agency and its partners have reached more than 42,000 residents from phone banking. The agency and its partner organizations, which distribute food and diapers, COVID-19 testing and personal protective equipment, also have reached over 12,000 residents in efforts to educate the public about the census.

“Doing the census is a true act of activism and resistance to hate and discrimination,” Pon said. “It confirms that our people are here and they’re all part of America.”

nchan@sfexaminer.com

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