On the last three days of March, teams of temporary Census Bureau workers visited the types of places, including what the bureau calls "targeted non-sheltered outdoor locations" (TNSOL), where homeless people are known to congregate. These workers were carrying out the "Service-Based Enumeration" (SBE) phase of the Census, which counts the nation's homeless population.
The bureau gave these workers two instructions that seemed peculiar: When they counted a homeless person, the workers did not need to take the person's name or date of birth, and if a presumed homeless person insisted he or she had already been counted by the Census, the workers were supposed to count that person anyway.
These orders raise an obvious question: Is the 2010 Census counting some homeless people twice?
The issue has not escaped the notice of the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Commerce, which oversees the Census Bureau. During the effort to count the homeless, officials from the IG's office visited 13 local Census offices to observe first-hand how the count was conducted. On May 5, the IG published a report for Congress on Census operations during the first quarter (January-March). It included the IG's observations on the homeless count.
The report indicated that the Census manual for Group Quarters Enumeration (GQE) -- of which the SBE count of the homeless is a part -- specifically instructed workers to recount people who said they had already been counted. The IG report also said the workers counting the homeless were not required to collect the names and birth dates of these people.
"Unique to this operation, enumerators were allowed to create an individual Census record based on their direct observation of the race, gender and ethnicity of the respondent," the IG reported. "Enumerators were not required to obtain names or dates of birth from such respondents. Additionally, the Census Bureau's GQE manual indicates that enumerators should recount any individual who asserts that he/she has already been counted."
The IG's office reported that some workers were naturally disinclined to follow the bureau's instructions to recount a person who claimed he had already been counted. Sometimes a person who said he had been counted already was counted again, sometimes not. The same happened with people who said they had an address.