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Census Bureau working to count people experiencing homelessness across the country

Published: Sep. 22, 2020 at 5:46 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - The U.S. Census is making a few new efforts to reach more people across the country, including people who are experiencing homelessness.

According to the Census Bureau, Census takers will count people who live outdoors, in transit stations, and at other locations where people are known to sleep in an operation called Targeted Non-Sheltered Outdoor Locations (TNSOL).

The federal bureau says statistics are crucial to programs and service providers that support people experiencing homelessness. Census workers also said data would help inform local state, and federal lawmakers on how to allocate billions of dollars in federal funds for local services such as shelters and soup kitchens, and programs like the Emergency Shelter Grants Program and the Special Milk Program for children.

It would also help local nonprofit organizations to improve where and how they provide their services, the bureau said.

Some Springfield organizations said a task like this is extremely complex and comes with many challenges. But groups also said there could be major benefits down the road.

“When you’re living on the streets you’re very transient," Veterans Coming Home Center Manager Chris Rice said. “So you’re moving around from day-to-day. Where you’re staying might not be where you’re staying a week from then or even the next day.”

Rice said it can be almost impossible to accurately measure the entire homeless population.

“We know that there are a lot more people living out on the streets than who we can actually count because we might see one-third of the population in here on any given time but you know there are probably two-thirds people just wandering around,” he said.

Rice said a few Census takers have already made their rounds to his organization’s facility. They may ask to follow along to count people where they are living. He said this this can sometimes be a touchy subject.

”It is an intrusive question and kind of a sore topic to talk with somebody who is experiencing homelessness because that camp or wherever they are staying could get broken up and then they really have to start all over," Rice said.

But his organization as well as others in the area said they do see possible benefits down the road.

“We’re trying to get a more accurate count so more funding is allocated to charities and non-profits who are trying to serve the homeless.”

Other groups like The Kitchen, Inc. also believe it could provide a huge benefit to homeless youth.

“There’s $800 billion in federal funding available based on the census," said The Kitchen, Inc.’s Rare Breed Youth Center Outreach Center Director Kathy Westmoreland. “So any percentage of that that could go toward the city of Springfield that benefits all of these youth that we see whether they are homeless or at risk.”

Right now the Kitchen Inc’s Rare Breed Youth Center Outreach Center has identified 65 youth to be accurately counted. Westmoreland said she believes it is very important that they are counted.

“We still want them to be counted accurately, their demographic information and their age obviously,” she said. "Especially with youth homelessness we want those ages documented.

She said a lot of the programs that would be impacted by this data would impact youth as well.

“Those are programs like Medicaid, which expanded in Missouri based on this last vote,” Westmoreland said. “That’s going to affect a lot of our youth that just turned 18-years-old who would not previously have had access. SNAP, that’s your food stamp program. And Section 8, that’s a housing program.”

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