Ohio Leaders Mobilize To Ensure Everyone Gets Counted In 2020 Census

Jan 28, 2020

As Michelle Heritage walks through the corridors of the YWCA Family Shelter in Columbus, she shares her ultimate vision for Franklin County.

"We want the best use of our resources we have to make sure the bottom's able. Nobody in this community should be hungry or homeless," says Heritage, executive director of the Community Shelter Board.

States around the country are preparing for this year’s big census count, which happens just once a decade. In Ohio, leaders have their own plans to reach out to people most at risk of going uncounted.

Heritage leads the charge in making sure the Census properly counts people experiencing homeless in Franklin County. More than 10,000 people in Ohio were considered homeless last year, according to a count taken by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development last January.

Getting an accurate count of the homeless community remains one of the biggest challenges. Groups that work closely with those populations will help lead the way.

"They know where people are located,” Heritage says. “They know if we've got camps where they're located, they also know where people who are unsheltered may be congregating in certain spaces, maybe at a soup kitchen. If people are using particular library branches, for example. And so it's really important that we communicate.”

Carol Hector-Harris, U.S. Census Bureau media specialist for Ohio, says there are several groups of people that will be counted through different enumeration efforts. That includes a special count for people in nursing homes, prisons and colleges.

"We are mandated by the constitution to count everyone. So we are planning once again this decade, as of April 1 this year, to count everyone once and only once and in the right place," Hector-Harris says.

The population count is tied to federal funding and representation in Congress. Ohio is already predicted to lose at least one seat in the U.S. House based on the next Census numbers.

"Those things are very, very important that's where our voices are heard also,” says Hector-Harris. “So we want to make sure that everyone's voice is involved. Everyone needs to be counted.”

She makes a special note to ensure people add their children to the Census form – children went undercounted in 2010.

Hector-Harris also urges that the form will not have a question about a person's citizenship status, an idea that was pushed by the Trump administration but was ultimately rejected.

The bureau is running ads to help recruit more people to take a job with the Census Bureau. Hector-Harris says these jobs can be crucial to helping get an accurate count, and include more than just walking around and knocking on doors.

"Seniors in the community didn't want to apply because they thought, 'Oh, my legs can't take walking from door to door.' Those are not the only jobs that we have. But people associate those jobs with the Census Bureau,” she says. “And we do have those. But that's not it. We have jobs for people with I.T. skills, people with recruiting skills, clerks, supervisors.”

This year, for the first time ever, the Census can be completed online. Hector-Harris says this will hopefully reduce the need for a lot of door-to-door counts later in the year.

In addition to the online Census form, people can also fill out a paper form or do it by phone.

Heritage says the Census means more than just getting an accurate head count.

"When I talk to folks that are experiencing homelessness, especially if they've been homeless long-term, the word they use with me, the feeling that they have is 'invisible.' They feel disconnected from the rest of us. And they're having the experience that most of us can't even get our heads around,” Heritage says. “And so to be part of this and to be treated like every other citizen, that they're important and that they're enumerated. It does mean something to them.”