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3rd Count of Homeless Conducted by Census : Population: The regional director reveals that 84 Ventura County sites were deleted from earlier canvassing.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The U. S. Census Bureau’s regional director said Thursday that census workers botched two separate counts of the county’s homeless population in March and that he ordered his troops back into the field for yet another head count.

John Reeder, the bureau’s California regional director, said his managers in Ventura County mistakenly omitted 84 street locations from a master list of homeless hangouts used in the two earlier all-night sweeps to find the county’s homeless population.

After discovering the error, Reeder said, he dispatched Ventura County census tak ers on a third midnight-to-dawn sweep this morning to finish the job of counting homeless people.

The homeless count in Ventura County, Reeder said, “has been one of the more interesting chapters in the 1990 Census for me. It has been an area where our people created some of the biggest problems.”

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The foul-ups started in February when Ventura County officials and homeless advocates prepared a master list of places where homeless people are known to spend the night.

Driven aggressively by Madge L. Schaefer, chairwoman of the County Board of Supervisors, county authorities ultimately identified 193 sites to help census takers find homeless people. The list included homeless shelters, parks, dry riverbeds and various street locations.

But census workers in the Ventura office whittled the list to 108 locations, out of confusion that accompanied the Census Bureau’s first effort to tally homeless people as a special group.

“We deleted some places because they didn’t fit into the homeless criteria that we were using,” said Geary-Ellen Williams, manager of the Ventura County field office. “That’s just what happened. The blame stops here.”

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Reeder said the places should not have been deleted, noting that the Census Bureau’s policy is to search for homeless people in every location provided by local governments.

Thursday’s disclosure is not the first criticism of the bureau’s effort to conduct a homeless census.

After witnessing the bureau’s first sweep for homeless people March 20, Schaefer criticized the effort as “inexcusably mismanaged.”

She complained to Reeder that census takers failed to visit all of the county’s shelters and often showed up woefully short of Spanish-language questionnaires and interpreters needed to communicate with non-English-speaking homeless people.

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At Schaefer’s prodding, Reeder audited the results of the first all-night census and ordered his employees back onto the streets in late March to visit the missed shelters and revisit others. At the time, he said, census takers had a complete body count.

“When I said we had been every place where we should have been, I was mistaken,” Reeder said Thursday. “We missed 84 places I didn’t know about.”

Census workers have already visited the 85th site.

Schaefer, a vocal critic of the bureau, praised Reeder on Thursday as “an honorable gentleman. I would have never known about these missed sites if he hadn’t called me. I’m glad that they are going to straighten it all out.”

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In stark contrast to problems surrounding the homeless count, the Ventura County field office has had the highest rate of return for census questionnaires mailed to county residents at their homes.

As of Monday, the latest figures available, 74.1% of Ventura County households had returned their census forms, Reeder said.

“We mailed out 228,000 forms and we got 169,000 back,” he said. “That’s the highest in the state. The second place is Santa Clara County at 73%.”

Ventura County, with its middle- and upper-income suburbs, matches the profile of areas in which the Census Bureau anticipated a high level of response.

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“We are delighted at being the best in the state,” Schaefer said.

She has promoted a complete count as necessary for the county to receive its full share of state and federal dollars that are distributed by population based on census figures.


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