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Census Workers Search Camps, Shelters to Count Homeless Americans


FILE - This May 21, 2020, file photo shows a homeless encampment on Beaudry Avenue as traffic moves along Interstate 110 in downtown Los Angeles. Over three days and nights this week, census takers are going to shelters, soup kitchens, mobile food van sto
Census Workers Search Camps, Shelters to Count Homeless Americans
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This week, workers for the United States Census Bureau will try to count homeless Americans.

The U.S. Constitution requires that a full census, or count, of the country’s population take place every 10 years. The numbers help officials to shape congressional representation and decide how to spend federal money.

Al Fontenot is the associate director of the U.S. Census Bureau. He spoke to an advisory committee last week. He said the Bureau has identified about 49,000 places across the U.S. where homeless people will be counted. The places include more than 33,000 camps, almost 10,000 shelters and 5,000 soup kitchens.

Counting the homeless is one of the hardest jobs for the U.S. Census Bureau. The effort is beginning six months later than planned because of the COVID-19 health crisis.

Fontenot said, “We are making every effort to make sure that no one is left out of the count.”

A difficult job

The delay means workers will be on the job during warmer weather, when homeless people are spread out across larger areas. Also, most homeless shelters are only operating at 25 percent to 50 percent capacity because of coronavirus restrictions. Some homeless activists worry that the Census Bureau will not count the whole homeless population.

Mike Arnold leads of aid group Midnight Mission. It provides beds, meals and drug abuse treatment on Skid Row, a poor area in Los Angeles.

Arnold said, “The best time to count is when it’s cold and when it’s dark, the way the county’s count is done. Fewer people are moving around and people are bedded down.”

Beth Shinn is a professor at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee who researches homelessness. She said trying to count people living outdoors will be hard.

“People find places to be that aren’t necessarily visible,” Shinn said.

Ron Book, chairman of the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust, center, kneeling, talks with a homeless couple sleeping under a bridge during the Point In Time Homeless Census, Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015, in Miami. The couple agreed to be sent to a shelter for t
Ron Book, chairman of the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust, center, kneeling, talks with a homeless couple sleeping under a bridge during the Point In Time Homeless Census, Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015, in Miami. The couple agreed to be sent to a shelter for t

The homeless count is starting as the Census Bureau’s effort to count people living in what is called transitory housing ends this month. About 12,500 census takers started visiting more than 60,000 RV parks, campgrounds, marinas and hotels where people often live temporarily.

All field operations for the 2020 census are set to end September 30.

For the homeless count, if someone is sleeping, a census taker will count them without getting information about their age, race, sex or ethnic identity.

Nowhere in the U.S. is the homeless crisis more visible than in Los Angeles. There, hundreds of people live in temporary shelters. A count last January by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority reported that there were more than 66,400 homeless people living in Los Angeles County. That is an increase of more than 12 percent from the year before.

The wildfires in California only add to the difficulty of getting an exact count. Californian Democrat Jimmy Gomez is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He wonders if many people in the state will be counted at all. “That is a big concern with wildfires raging across California,” he said.

I’m Mario Ritter, Jr.

Mike Schneider and Christopher Weber. Mario Ritter Jr. adapted it for VOA Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.

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Words in This Story

soup kitchen –n. a place that gives food (such as soup and bread) to poor people

capacity –n. the ability of a room or building to hold people

transitory –adj. lasting for a short time, not permanent

visible –adj. capable of being seen

RV park –n. a place where people can park their vehicles to camp and spend the night often with special equipment for campers and motor homes

marina –n. a place on a river or lake on in a harbor where privately owned boats are kept

raging –adj. violent, wild

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