Can Census2020 accurately count people experiencing homelessness? Not during a pandemic

Census 2020 is too important to get wrong. It determines political representation and Federal funding. By state, but by county too. Minnesota could lose a congressional seat if the count is low. Census data is a major factor in planning services like schools, hospitals and housing. Temporary shifts in homeless and student populations will impact future funding and planning.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune recognizes the precarious predicament…

The coronavirus pandemic couldn’t have arrived at a worse time for the 2020 Census. The once-in-a-decade count was just about to kick into overdrive when the crisis upended American life.

Rallies, doorknocking and other events encouraging people to fill out their forms around Census Day, April 1, have been canceled. Plans to contact hard-to-count college students, homeless people and remote rural residents have been delayed, as have training sessions for Census takers and other operations.

The same article reports that, as of yesterday, 29 percent of households have returned them. And plans have been made to shift doorknocking to phone calling and social media and having the forms online is helping – for those with broadband and technology to access it. Strides are being made to overcome virus barriers but they are leading to uneven results.

The article takes a look at people experiencing homelessness and the census…

The virus will also complicate counting the homeless, who are typically counted wherever they are located on April 1 ­— though counting will now begin later. Hennepin County has begun moving homeless seniors to suburban hotels, meaning they may be counted in Bloomington rather than where they typically reside in Minneapolis.

Monica Nilsson, who operates two homeless shelters in Minneapolis, said that could mean the city loses out on more than $5 million over the next decade — based on estimates that each person counted garners $2,800 in federal funding for their community.

“Minneapolis deserves that income because they are the ones who care for the homeless community,” said Nilsson, who is advising Hennepin County on counting the homeless.

The Census Bureau is also encouraging homeless shelters to provide information on their residents so Census takers don’t need to conduct in-person interviews. But Nilsson said shelters are already experiencing staff shortages and dealing with complex quarantine arrangements.

“We are scrambling as it is in our shelters,” Nilsson said.

“We all depend on the Census helping us get proper data,” she added. “It’s just not the time for this right now.”

For similar reasons, the count of college students may be skewed as students have moved “back home” from neighborhoods closer to campuses. Again, Census results will determine future political representation, federal funding and planning. It’s too important to get wrong.

Published by Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (, hosts a radio show on MN music (, supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota ( and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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