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Census Count For Unhoused Angelenos Wraps Up Thursday

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Homeless tents in Downtown Los Angeles (APU GOMES/AFP via Getty Images)
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What's at stake for Southern California in the 2020 Census? Billions of dollars in federal funding for programs like Medi-Cal, for public education, even disaster planning. Political representation in Sacramento and D.C. A census undercount could cut critical resources in L.A. County, home to the largest hard-to-count population in the nation.

It's not too late to be counted on the 2020 Census website.

Federal census enumerators have been working to tally an estimated 66,000-plus unhoused residents of L.A. County for the 2020 Census this week.

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This phase of the decennial count is particularly challenging for the U.S. Census Bureau because the agency doesn't have an easy list of addresses that census takers must visit, or an optiminzed route for them to travel along.

Instead, federal employees must make contact with service providers to coordinate the count of the homeless population.

Melody Jaramillo-Alvarado is Director of Community Engagement for L.A. Family Housing, one of those providers. She understands that contact from the federal government can make some residents nervous.

"There’s a lot of distrust in the government. We have a base of folks who are not legal residents," Jaramillo-Alvarado said.

So, she spent time explaining to residents that the census is safe and helps determines resources they might depend on, like healthcare and nutrition assistance. But instead of having census takers visit the shelters in person, Jaramillo-Alvarado opted to send her shelter's population data directly to the Census Bureau, which shelters were allowed to do. She said she figured she would get better results that way.

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"Had I not done it, I don’t think all of our participants would have been counted," Jaramillo-Alvarado said.

Other service providers and census advocates have expressed frustration with working with the Census Bureau to coordinate the homeless count. One provider told LAist that the government didn't give clear instructions for counting homeless people housed through Project Roomkey, a state and local program that finds housing for people in hotels and motels during the pandemic.

"Timelines changing, back and forth, I think has caused some confusion," Jaramillo-Alvarado said, acknowledging those changes were made on the federal level. "I empathize with their challenges. There's always room for improvement."

The homeless count is set to wrap up Thursday, after census takers worked overnight Wednesday trying to count the many thousands of people living outside.

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