From mansions to boxes, census to look for all types of residents

02/22/2010 4:56 AM

02/22/2010 2:36 PM

Sam Wendell says he's been living on the streets for nearly two years since he was released from prison for writing bad checks.

He says he sleeps at Dry Creek Park until the cops roust him. Then he spends a few nights at the Modesto Gospel Mission or sleeping behind a business before returning to the park.

In late March, Wendell, 55, will have visitors.

That's when Census Bureau workers will be out counting the homeless, or what bureau officials call "people who experience homelessness."

It's part of the effort to count everyone, whether they live in a cardboard box or a mansion as part of Census 2010.

"It's the same reason why the census is important elsewhere," said Robert Lindsey, the local census manager for Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties. "We need to get an accurate and complete census. It means that communities get their fair share of federal funding for such things as roads, schools and homeless shelters."

Lindsey said every person counted represents $1,700 a year in federal funding.

A homeless count done last year by a network of social service agencies for a federal Housing and Urban Development grant found 1,800 people in Stanislaus County. Based on that number, the homeless represent more than $3 million in annual federal funding to the county.

The Census Bureau will count the homeless over the last three days in March across the nation. Workers will ask the homeless to fill out a seven-question form, including one about where they live.

Census workers will count them at soup kitchens, mobile food vans and at homeless shelters. On one night, they will count the homeless living along rivers, under bridges, in alleys behind businesses and at other outdoor locations.

Lindsey said The Salvation Army, Modesto Gospel Mission, Turlock's United Samaritans Foundation and other groups that work with the homeless will help the Census Bureau with the count in Stanislaus County. The bureau also will hire homeless people to help with the count.

But it will be hard to find the homeless on the 2010 census.

Just as they were categorized on the 2000 census, the homeless will be included in the category of noninstitutional group quarters. The bureau definition of that category includes students in college dorms, the disabled in halfway houses and farmworkers in migrant housing.

The 2000 census counted 3,671 people in noninstitutional group quarters for Stanislaus County.

Census Bureau spokesman Sonny Le said his agency is charged with counting everyone and does not claim to count the homeless.

"We are counting people who are experiencing homelessness at a given time," he said.

He said homelessness often is a contentious issue, with some communities not wanting to acknowledge they have homeless people and others complaining the federal government has undercounted the numbers.

"It's a very political situation," he said. "We try to stay clear of that battle."

Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at kvaline@modbee.com or 578-2316.

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