Counting the homeless: 2020 census could lead to help for people in need

Published: Mar. 12, 2020 at 9:22 AM EDT

WASHINGTON (Gray DC) -- Across the nation, hundreds of thousands of Americans are living on a sidewalk, under a bridge, or inside a tent.

The government calls them the “unsheltered homeless,” and they account for at least one-third of the homeless population. The other two-thirds stay in shelters.

“It’s very easy for us to know where our emergency shelters are…But, it’s much more difficult for us to know where the parks or the bridges are where people are living,” tech consultant Chris Lyon told us.

Lyon is showcasing a web application at the Census Bureau to help count homeless people in the 2020 census. It’s designed by the tech company Excella.

This site allows organizations that work with the homeless to report locations where they gather. Then census workers can use that data to find them.

Census Bureau data drives decisions about billions of dollars in federal funding. This is money that goes to homeless services like finding a meal, a place to sleep, and support for mental health and substance abuse.

“We have so much data, and we have a responsibility for the public to translate it into valuable products and uses that benefit people’s lives. So, our philosophy is that we can do that better by engaging with the tech industry,” said Drew Zachary from the Census Bureau.

The census is a once in a decade count, so the impact of getting it right matters to people struggling in every community.

The partnership between Excella and the agency will be put to the test at the end of March. Census workers plan to spend three days focused on counting homeless people across the country.

Their hope is more accurate numbers will bring life changing help to the homeless.

Everyone should receive an invitation to participate in the 2020 census by April 1. People can respond online, by phone or by mail.

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