With in-person census counting temporarily suspended due to the COVID-19, colloquially known as the coronavirus, pandemic, it may become even more difficult to accurately catalog hard-to-count populations in Berkeley.
The U.S. Census Bureau postponed any door-to-door counting until April 15, and the self-reporting deadline has been extended to Aug. 14 given the impacts of COVID-19, according to Jeffrey Enos, deputy regional director of the U.S. Census Bureau’s Los Angeles Regional Office.
Berkeley City Councilmember Rigel Robinson said in an email that the new timeline is “inadequate,” however, and emphasized that a complete count should be prioritized.
“The homeless, students, residents without internet access, rural Americans, and so many more are easily undercounted without in-person outreach efforts,” Robinson said in the email. “All of that is at risk, because of the pandemic.”
Enos said the state is still on track to receive a “full and accurate” census count, noting that door-to-door operations will take place once it is safe to do so. He added that efforts to count the homeless population originally scheduled for the end of March and early April have been postponed to the end of April and into May.
In addition to determining political representation at the state and federal levels, Enos said, the census is used to divide hundreds of billions in federal funds each year, which may be allocated toward homeless resources, such as programs and planning for new shelters.
Andrea Henson, lead organizer for the “Where do we go?” campaign, said a coordinated effort by city and county officials is needed for the homeless population in Berkeley to be reported accurately. She added that amid a pandemic, however, the census is the least of the unhoused population’s concerns.
“People are worried about trash, hand sanitizer and water, survival, they’re not thinking about the census right now,” Henson said. “This is how the city and county get money, so officials should figure out how to respond to this.”
Naomi Garcia, census committee director for the ASUC External Affairs Vice President’s office, said in-person events where students could learn about and fill out the census questionnaire were canceled due to the pandemic. Because many students have gone home, Garcia added, they may be unsure about whether to use their Berkeley or home addresses when filling out the questionnaire, which could lead to students being undercounted.
Robinson emphasized that students should fill out the census with their Berkeley addresses, given that the student population is “permanent and growing,” to ensure adequate funds are allocated to the city.
“Without a complete count of students, future generations of Golden Bears will live in a Berkeley less resourced to face our greatest challenges,” Robinson said in the email.