Census Coming to Cambridge

1990 Count Targets Students, Homeless

When they return from Spring Break, Harvard students will take part in the 1990 census which will pay special attention to the accuracy count of students, the poor, illegal immigrants and-for the first time-the homeless.

According to officials, Harvard will be given special attention in this year's census because it was undercounted in the 1980 census and the city of Cambridge sued the Census Bureau.

"Cambridge sued the Census Bureau for undercounting college students and minorities in 1980," said District Manager of the Census Carlos Dominguez.

The census will be in the mail boxes of Quad students and door dropped to the River houses and the Yard and must be returned to as yet unannounced locations Friday April 6.

"If you don't return them by [that day] the Census Bureau will try to contact you. We need a 100 percent return" said Housing Officer Catherine M. Millett.

Because of the demographic changes in the area and the focus on groups that are hard to enumerate, the Census Bureau has changed its counting methods this year, according to Dominguez.

"We will not take anything for granted--we will try to enumerate everyone. To do this we will have to adapt our methods accordingly," said Dominguez.

One of the problems for accurate counting, Dominguez said, is the distrust expressed by many poor people of the bureau's motives. Although the information in the census is only avalilable to sworn census officers for 73 years, by law, the poor don't believe that the information is confidential.

"Very many people in minority groups are afraid of the federal government," said Dominguez. "Poor people in general don't trust us."

Counting the homeless is another complicated and controversial plan for this year's census.

The counting of the homeless will be conducted in three phases. In the first phase, census representative will go to shelters in the early evening. The second phase will be conducted in cooperation with area police, who will help census enumerators find areas frequented by the homeless. The final step will involve searching abandoned buildings in the early morning.

Some student activists who work with the homeless are concerned that the attempts to count these people may not be effective. There are homeless estimates that range from 300,000 to over six million and the results of the census will play a definitive role on the funding of programs.

"It is generally a good idea. A very good idea, but there are potential drawbacks," said Stephan J. Klasen '91 who works with the Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA) Committee on the Homeless.

Klasen explained that he saw the risk of undercounting the homeless and thus allocating too little money in aid as a potentially serious problem.

The Census data will determine the number of reperesentatives each state will have in Congress and how federal, state and local funds for housing, health services, job training, education, public works and other programs will be divided.