Census workers prepare to count the homeless

Published: Feb. 19, 2020 at 9:18 PM CST
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Getting an accurate census count brings all sorts of challenges. That includes finding people who don't have a permanent place to live.

The Census count is based on where people live. Those in residential homes pose no problem. However, the "service-based enumeration," or homeless population, is a different story. North Dakota Census workers are in the process of touching base with and making lists of locations and agencies the homeless population receive benefits from or gather often.

Almost every day, from lunch to dinner, members of the Bismarck homeless community stop by Heaven's Helpers Soup Cafe to grab a bite to eat. This hub will become a vital location for Census workers to get an accurate count of the population in North Dakota.

"All of these individuals are residents of the state and they deserve to be counted just as every other resident does," said North Dakota Department of Commerce Census Office Manager Kevin Iverson.

Lack of consistent housing poses one issue to accurate homeless population counts. However, there are other hurdles.

"One of the biggest issues in many of these populations is they're very concerned with privacy and confidentiality. They don't want to share information," Iverson said.

Iverson says Census workers face fines and prison time for divulging any information collected.

Iverson says the benefits of an accurate homeless count should outweigh reservations.

"It's really important for funding purposes because a lot of the federal funding is based on how many homeless people you have here in your community," said Missouri Slope Areawide United Way Director Jena Gullo.

The state also uses population statistics to distribute funds to the local level, which goes back to agencies like Missouri Slope Areawide United Way that help shelter the homeless.

Iverson estimates the cost of missing one individual is equal to losing $1,910 over the course of a year in federal funding for our state.