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Census workers take count of homeless

March 31, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Census workers returned to Dodger Stadium early Wednesday after being out overnight counting the number of homeless.According to some studies, Los Angeles is the second most under counted city in the country.

Obviously it can be difficult to count people who do not have an address, but Census officials are pleased with what they accomplished Tuesday evening.

Workers streamed back to Dodger Stadium after completing their assignments Wednesday morning. Approximately 1,300 workers took to the streets Tuesday night counting the number of homeless in Los Angeles.

"Some people wanted to give their information very freely. They wanted to make sure that their voice was heard," said Christina Coffey, Census Bureau. "Many people did not have a problem answering the questions, while others didn't have the time. You observe them and then you move on."

Census enumerators gathered at the stadium to pick up their questionnaires, safety vest and flashlights before heading out. They were then sent in teams to downtown Los Angeles to Marina Del Rey combing areas where homeless people congregate.

Because of the colder temperatures, there were fewer people outdoors than usual.

"We found when we did our shelter count yesterday that we had more than we anticipated," said L.A. Census manager Al Fontenot. "Then in some areas we did not find homeless people there even though those are areas that they normally would be staying."

People who know what it feels like to live on the streets were hired as cultural facilitators to help ease the fears that make some homeless people reluctant to answer questions.

"When you have been homeless and you have people approaching you it could be a good thing or it could be a very bad thing," said a former homeless man. "You could be arrested or you could be mugged."

L.A. is believed to harbor the country's largest homeless population -- estimated at around 50,000.

The information that the workers gathered could mean millions of dollars in funding for programs that help the homeless. This is something many homeless people understand.

"It is very important to count people because the government will give more money to the homeless," said William Ortiz, who is homeless.

"It was a long night, but it was successful," said Fontenot.

One big concern, however, for the people running the census Tuesday evening was the safety of their workers. Fortunately, there were no problems and many of the workers say it was a great experience.