The focus of the 2010 Census in the Mission District will be counting residents who don’t feel safe participating.
“They need to know they have nothing to be afraid of,” Supervisor David Campos said about undocumented immigrants participating in the census. “It is important for city government to make that clear.”
Ralph Lee, the regional director for the Seattle region, which includes Northern California, stated that the census is required by the U.S. constitution and the information obtained will not be shared with other agencies.
Lee added that counting everyone will be challenging, but some changes, like making the form only 10 questions long, have made it easier. The form used to contain 55 questions in 2000, the last time the census was counted.
The challenge, which became more difficult after California allocated only $2 million this year for outreach efforts compared to $24 million in 2000, is one that the Census Bureau is ready to take by reaching out and funding community groups in hard-to-count areas.
The funding, which goes into making promotional material and educating the community about the census, has increased on the city level, however.
The city originally allocated $300,000 but later increased it to $870,000 — $570,000 will go to community group including Mission nonprofits like the Central American Resource Center (CARECEN) and the Mission Neighborhood Resource center to help with the count.
Meanwhile the Census Bureau, which is using $300 million for outreach nationwide, has been reaching out to community-based organizations as the “trusted gatekeepers,” according to Lee.
Even though he said they couldn’t match the $22 million in missing state funding, they were still able to increase Census Bureau staff five-fold for the Mission District alone through federal funding.
“We are learning from 10 years ago,” he said about doing more outreach to community organizations.
A Focus on the Mission
The Census Bureau is focusing on the Mission, as a traditionally difficult place to count and one that was under-counted 10 years ago, said Jenny Diaz, a partnership assistant and one of the leads in overseeing the Mission count.
Adrienne Pon, the executive director of the Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs, which is in charge of overseeing the census in the city, said they focused on the Mission because it is home to two of the most under-counted groups: immigrants and college students.
Diaz, who also worked on the 2000 Census, said that because some immigrants don’t feel like stakeholders, they will tailor their message on how the funding goes to some organizations where they get health care or take classes.
Eva Martinez, the executive director for Accion Latina, which received a grant from the city to help with the outreach and is creating the Mission’s own complete count committee, said reaching out to community groups is a step in the right direction.
“It’s not the best strategy to send people from outside the community to try to get these hard-to-count sectors counted,” Martinez said. “This year I am very happy they have reached out to the community-based organizations because we are the ones they see every day — we have the best chance of getting people counted.”
Another challenge the Mission might face is an increase in people living in one household, Lee said.
Diaz said that census workers, known as enumerators, go out to individual homes if the household doesn’t mail back the form by April. Additionally, Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi plans to introduce an ordinance requiring census workers to be allowed in single room occupancy hotels, which abound in the Mission.
Officials said the 2000 Census was under counted by 100,000 people, costing the city almost $300 million over the past ten years in federal grants and funding.
Several Mission residents, who declined to give their name, said they would not participate in the census because they don’t see a benefit.
Martinez isn’t surprised.
“Every 10 years there is a re-education process that goes on, “ she said, adding that some are even confused if children should be counted.
Manuel Romero, who came to the U.S. 40 years ago, said that he has never participated in the census but plans to this year.
Romero said he thought that voting was the equivalent because “they have your information in the system.”
Lazaro Galan, another Mission resident, said even though he is against undocumented immigrants, he wants them to participate.
“They need to make themselves counted,” he said. “If they get sick are they going to go to Mexico? No, they are going to go to a community clinic.”
He added that fears of their information being shared with immigration is not an excuse and blames it on a lack of education.
Residents who have questions about the form, which will be mailed in March, can get help in several locations throughout the Mission.
Diaz said they are still contracting with several groups but said at least one of them will be at the Centro Del Pueblo on Valencia Street.
The bureau is also hiring some 3,000 people to manually count those who did not fill out their form.