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Community organizations work to engage undercounted and underrepresented populations ahead of 2020 census

Orange County Great Park
Charitable Ventures, an Orange County-based nonprofit, received a state contract to lead the way in outreach and education for the census in the county.
(Los Angeles Times)

Leading up to the 2020 census, dozens of community groups in Orange County are working to reach undercounted and underepresented populations through community engagement and messaging campaigns.

Attaining an accurate count is crucial. Orange County may not receive adequate federal funding and resources without it.

Historically, communities of color, children under 5, the homeless and veterans have all been undercounted.

“If we don’t have an accurate count of who is in Orange County then we are not getting our fair share as a region or community,” said Sarah Middleton, census consultant for Charitable Ventures. “We are not getting the federal resources into Orange County that our population deserves. That is a big hit.”

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Charitable Ventures, an Orange County-based nonprofit seeking social change, received a state contract to lead the way in outreach and education for the census in the county. The group has distributed more than $1.7 million to local organizations focused on census outreach.

Charitable Ventures also created the OC Census Fund to find private donations to add to public dollars.

Some of the groups that have received funding include Latino Health Access, OC Labor Federation, Jamboree Housing Corporation, the Kennedy Commission and VietRISE.

Middleton said these groups are being strategic in targeting groups with messaging, canvassing, phone banking, events and meetings to spread the word. Residents will begin receiving directions from the Census Bureau by mail on how to respond to the 2020 census by mid-March.

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Organizations are engaging the Chinese population through the app WeChat, which is popular with the community, and advertisements are being placed in ethnic media publications.

Middleton said the canvassing and phone banking is being done by groups that are well trusted in their respective communities.

VietRISE is a group of activists that rallies for the Vietnamese community in Little Saigon. Latino Health Access is a Santa Ana-based nonprofit that has been combating public health problems that plague uninsured and underserved families for nearly three decades. Jamboree Housing is an affordable housing developer based in Irvine since 1990.

“This is about money, about power and building healthy communities,” Middleton said. “It’s an all hands on deck moment.”

But community groups have an uphill battle before them.

Middleton said there are more challenges than ever to get an accurate count for this year’s census.

Many in the undocumented immigrant community may be skeptical of taking part in the census due to the news last year of President Donald Trump looking to add a citizenship question.

After three district court judges and the Supreme Court disagreed with Trump, the question wasn’t added. However, the news is still in the minds of immigrant communities that fear reprisal from the administration.

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“The damage has been done and immigrant communities are fearful,” Middleton said. “You throw in ICE raids and people have been told to not open your doors. You are going to have a bunch of census takers knocking on doors.”

The 2020 paper census will only be printed in English and Spanish, which is a change from previous years when it was presented in several languages. The online and phone options will have 13 languages available.

Middleton said this could pose a problem for those without Internet and seniors with no digital literacy.

Middleton also pointed to underfunding of the census bureau and a lack of “dress rehearsals,” which is particularly crucial this year due to a digital option that was added.

“There are some fears about the system crashing,” Middleton said. “The bureau has said it won’t be another Affordable Care Act moment. You just never know.”

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