How the Census Works

Counting Homeless and Transient People
Census workers count some homeless people in Newark, N.J. during the 1990 census.
Census workers count some homeless people in Newark, N.J. during the 1990 census.
© J A Giordano/CORBIS SABA

According to the Census Bureau, it enlists the help of local experts in finding places where people without housing receive services, such as emergency and transitional shelters, soup kitchens, regularly scheduled mobile food vans and targeted outdoor locations. Census workers go to these locations to conduct the census.

Partnerships with community-based organizations are essential to including migrant and seasonal farm workers in the census. The Census Bureau seeks the advice of local experts to find areas where migrant and seasonal workers live and work, including unregistered labor camps, vehicles parked near work sites and living areas along unnamed roads.

Census takers also interview people staying at campgrounds, fairs and carnivals and marinas. Every person interviewed has the opportunity to report his or her permanent address.

And the bureau works with the Department of Defense and the U.S. Coast Guard to identify living quarters on military installations and ships. All oceangoing, coastal and Great Lake ships take part in what is known as the Census Maritime Enumeration. In addition, the Census Bureau's plan accounts for military personnel and federal civilian government employees, as well as their dependents who are stationed overseas.

When necessary, census takers assist residents who need help in completing the forms. In some facilities, such as jails, the staff distributes census questionnaires. These staff workers, like all census workers, are sworn to protect the confidentiality of the individual.

A complete set of residence rules telling where students, nursing home residents, military personnel and others are counted can be found on the Census Bureau's Web site.

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