NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Bureau Declines To Release Census Data On Homeless

June 28, 2001

The Census Bureau does not intend to release to states and cities figures on their homeless populations. Bureau officials say they fear the 2000 numbers will be misused, as they were after the 1990 census. The state and city homeless counts released in 1990 were widely viewed as inaccurate.

  • The bureau has said that nationally 280,527 people were counted at homeless shelters, soup kitchens, on the streets and other places in 2000 -- up from 228,261 in 1990.
  • The decision to withhold state and local homeless figures has been criticized by planners from big cities, who say they were urged by the bureau to undertake extraordinary and expensive measures to help count the homeless during the 2000 census -- including, in the case of Los Angeles, recruiting advocates for the homeless to do census counts.
  • However, the Census Bureau action was praised by advocates for the homeless who had lobbied the bureau not to release separate breakdowns.
  • Following the 1990 count, advocates said they were appalled when a count they considered flawed was used by some lawmakers to argue for a reduction in spending on homeless programs.

Instead of providing state and local figures, the bureau has lumped homeless persons into a category counted in "other non-institutional group quarters." That also includes displaced people living in temporary shelters after natural disasters, people living in shelters for battered women, and nurses and interns living in dormitories at military and general hospitals.

Some city planners argue that holding back data because they could be misinterpreted goes against the bureau's mission to be the provider of data -- not their censor.

Source: Steven A. Holmes, "Bureau Won't Distribute Census Data on Homeless," New York Times, June 28, 2001.


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