Census Director Admits ‘We May Have Duplicates’

July 7, 2010 - 6:08 PM
U.S. Census Bureau Director Dr. Robert Groves told CNSNews.com on Wednesday that the Census has 'no way, unfortunately, of knowing' whether or not homeless individuals were counted twice, and added, 'we may have duplicates.'

This Oct. 2003 photo, supplied by the University of Michigan, shows University of Michigan Professor Robert M. Groves, selected by President Barack Obama to be the next census director. (AP Photo/U of Mich.,Paul Jaronski)

(CNSNews.com) - U.S. Census Bureau Director Robert Groves told CNSNews.com on Wednesday that the Census has "no way, unfortunately, of knowing" whether or not homeless individuals were counted twice, and added, "we may have duplicates."

As CNSNews.com reported on June 10, the Office of the Inspector General of the Commerce Department, which oversees the Census, published a report in May indicating that Census workers were instructed by a Census manual to recount homeless people who said they already had been counted.
 
The IG's report also revealed that the enumerators (the workers who count people for the Census) were not required to collect homeless persons’ names and birth dates.
 
During a conference call on Wednesday, CNSNews.com asked Dr. Groves, “What process is the Census using to remove duplicated records of homeless individuals who were recounted by enumerators and for which no name, birth date, or ethnicity information was collected?”
 

 
Groves said it is “feasible” that homeless people could have been counted twice. “It is common that when we visit those outdoor locations that we can’t get the names and age and race of each individual. They say essentially, ‘We don’t want to talk to you,’” Groves said.
 
“As a last resort in those cases, we enumerate them, we count, we write down ‘Person 1, Person 2’ – that’s about the best we can do,” said Groves. “What the caller notes is sometimes person number 13 under the overpass may have been counted in the soup kitchen.”
 
“We have no way, unfortunately, of knowing that in that circumstance,” he said.  “That’s a weakness in the enumeration of homeless people, we may have duplicates.”
 
The May 5  IG report showed that a Census manual for counting the homeless “indicates that enumerators should recount any individual who asserts that he/she has already been counted.”
 
“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 OIG reported. “Enumerators were not required to obtain names or dates of birth from such respondents.”
 
“When deviating from established procedures, enumerators appeared to follow a more common-sense approach to reducing the risk of duplicate records,” concluded the OIG report. “However, this risk remains great for individual records created during [homeless count enumeration]. We have not reviewed the process Census will use to remove duplicate records for enumerations that were simply based on direct observation of race, gender, age or ethnicity, and in which no birth date or name was provided.”
 
For the June 10 story, CNSNews.com asked Census spokesman Michael Cook how the Census Bureau was going to eliminate the double-counting of homeless people from the final Census count. In an e-mail response, Cook said:  “We have a process for dealing with duplicate responses to the 2010 Census to which the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and Inspector General (IG) are very familiar."
 
Cook did not explain what that process was, nor did Groves when CNSNews.com asked about it on Wednesday. 
 
Counting the homeless population, a process that Groves described as “challenging,” is part of the Census’s constitutionally mandated decennial count. It is done during the Service-Based Enumeration (SBE) phase of the Census, which is a component of the Group Quarters Enumeration (GQE) operation.  
 
“We attempt to count those folks that are non-traditionally housed, including those who live and sleep in outdoor locations, in a special operation three days at the end of March,” explained Dr. Groves on Wednesday.
 
“The way we do it is to both visit service providers where the homeless would seek services – soup kitchens, health services, shelters and so on--on a couple of days and then one night we actually go to outdoor locations,” he said.
 
“It is feasible as the caller noted that we would count someone both at a soup kitchen on Monday and then we would visit an encampment or a group of people sleeping under an overpass the next day,” Groves said.
 
As an example of another “weakness in the homeless count,” Groves said that the Census Bureau does not “attempt to measure homeless people who lived by themselves in a tent deep in the woods miles from anyone else--we don’t know they’re there.”
 
“We also note that we have a lot of missed homeless” Groves said. 
 
A transcript of the exchange between Census Director Dr. Robert Groves and CNSNews.com follows below:
 
CNSNews.com: “What process is the Census using to remove duplicated records of homeless individuals who were recounted by enumerators and for which no name, birth date, or ethnicity information was collected?”
 
Dr. Groves: “It’s a great question.  So let me paraphrase the question to make sure that I’m doing it right. We attempt to count those folks that are non-traditionally housed, including those who live and sleep in outdoor locations in a special operation, three days at the end of March. This is a very challenging thing, if you think about it for a minute.
 
“The way we do it is to both visit service providers where the homeless would seek services – soup kitchens, health services, shelters and so on – on a couple of days and then one night we actually go to outdoor locations. It is feasible as the caller noted that we would count someone both at a soup kitchen on Monday and then we would visit an encampment or a group of people sleeping under an overpass the next day.
 
“When we visit them in the evening it is very common that those people are worried about their own safety and they protect themselves in various ways to make sure they’re not harmed physically. It is common that when we visit those outdoor locations that we can’t get the names and age and race of each individual. They say essentially ‘we don’t want to talk to you.’
 
“As a last resort in those cases we, we enumerate them, we count, we write down ‘Person 1, Person 2’ – that’s about the best we can do. What the caller notes is sometimes person number 13 under the overpass may have been counted in the soup kitchen.
 
“We have no way, unfortunately, of knowing that in that circumstance. That’s a weakness in the enumeration of homeless people, we may have duplicates. We also know that we have a lot of missed homeless. We do not even attempt to measure homeless people who lived by themselves in a tent deep in the woods miles from anyone else -- we don’t know they’re there. We rely on local officials and local community organizers to find clusters of homeless, and that’s the way we do it. This is a weakness in the homeless count.”