Census works hard to count homeless

Wichita's Union Rescue Mission had some special visitors this week:

Workers for the 2010 U.S. Census.

Marsha Stanyer, the mission's executive director, said workers spent a couple of hours talking to those at the shelter.

"They were just trying to get a feel for the numbers," she said Thursday.

It was all part of a national push by the Census Bureau to dig a little deeper to count everyone.

Over a three-day period this week, those workers visited soup kitchens, shelters and anywhere they would find transients.

Dennis Johnson, director of the bureau's regional office in Kansas City, Mo., said counting homeless and transient people is a daunting task.

"But we want to count everyone," he said.

Johnson said workers check with local officials to identify specific locations where the homeless might be sleeping overnight.

"Parks, parking lots," Johnson said.

Workers went in teams to those spots to get a count, but they weren't asking people without homes to fill out the same 10-question form sent to every household in America.

Not even ages are asked.

"We're counting noses for the most part," Johnson said. "Especially if we're going at night, we're not trying to pin down demographic information."

As for the response to the questionnaire that has been mailed to households, Kansas has a 59 percent participation rate through Thursday. That's ahead of the national rate of 52 percent.

For the last census, in 2000, Kansas tied for 10th among the states with 75 percent of its households mailing back the forms. The national response for that census was 72 percent.

"Based on what we did in 2000," Johnson said, "we're pretty well on track. We started off a little slower, but we've picked it up a little quicker.

"We just can't let up."

The nation's midsection leads the way in participation. Through Thursday, South Dakota and Wisconsin have the top response rate at 62 percent, followed by Nebraska and North Dakota at 61 percent and Iowa at 60 percent.

Sedgwick County, which had a 74 percent response in the 2000 census, is at 55 percent.

Harvey County is at 65 percent while Butler and Sumner are each at 62 percent.

For the state, Nemaha County in the northeast leads at 71 percent. The southwest's Morton has the lowest rate among the counties at 42 percent.

While the majority of the forms were sent out nationally March 15, Johnson said questionnaires are just now being mailed to some newer residential areas and other areas "we added late in the game."

Some of the households that haven't responded to the first mailing were sent a second form Thursday.

"Basically, we're sending those to areas that we anticipated we would have a lower response, such as central-city areas and areas with recent immigrants," Johnson said.

Anyone who hasn't received a questionnaire by April 12 is asked to call the Census Bureau at 866-872-6868.

If a household doesn't mail back the form by around May 1, a worker will be sent to the residence in an attempt to complete the form.

The Census Bureau spends about $25 for each home visit it makes. It costs the bureau 42 cents for the form to be returned in the postage-paid envelope.