Santa Barbara County recently worked alongside the federal Census Bureau to conduct a count of the local homeless population for the 2010 Census.
The Census is a constitutionally mandated survey of U.S. citizens that provides the government with an accurate count of the population. The results are then used to help determine political districts and distribute federal funding. Counting the transient population will contribute to a more accurate estimate of the county’s population, which determines how much money is granted for schools, streets and other public projects.
According to Brian Bresolin, regional analyst for the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments, the bureau embarked on a three-day “service-based enumeration” at the end of March to count the vagrant population.
“The first night, persons from shelters were counted,” Bresolin said. “The second day persons were interviewed at soup kitchens, mobile food vans, etc. The third day, [the homeless] were counted and interviewed at pre-identified, non-sheltered locations.”
Each person counted in the United States is equivalent to approximately $2,000 of federal funds distributed each year.
As of press time, approximately 58 percent of the county has completed a census form. The documents can be completed and turned in through the middle of April. Those who do not return their census form can expect to be contacted by a Census Bureau employee.
According to a Census Bureau employee who asked to remain anonymous, the Census was designed to gauge the vagrant population so that federal funding of homeless-based services can be allocated fairly.
“They want everybody to be counted, and believe it or not, a lot of the nonprofit homes and shelters are federally funded,” he said. “The shelters have helped in enumerating homeless citizens to allow for equal funding.”
Some community members, however, argue that this count is a waste of resources. Richard Firth, a third-year mechanical engineering major, said he disagreed with the process.
“I think it’s a bit of a waste of time,” Firth said. “For the amount of money that they are spending on people going around, they could probably do a generalized estimate. I honestly don’t think it’s that important to count them. When you are counting people, you might be counting them by the 10 thousands. It’s too small a number of people to make a difference, and isn’t worth the effort to actually go out and count them.”
Second-year political science major Charlie McCone, however, said he believed every person should be counted.
“Well if the goal of the Census is to get a better representation of the population, then it doesn’t make sense to leave out a chunk of the population,” McCone said. “Homeless populations affect societies, and I think it’s for the best that we include them. Benefits are definitely an incentive for people to fill to the Census.”