Critics scorn census tally of homeless

Wednesday, October 31, 2001

WASHINGTON -- More than 170,000 people were in homeless and emergency shelters on one spring night last year, according to a census survey. Critics scorned the analysis as an incomplete picture of life on the streets in America.

The Census Bureau report released Tuesday counted people in shelters on March 27, 2000, the first day of a three-day survey that also covered people visiting soup kitchens and living on city streets.

The bureau earlier this year reported finding 280,527 homeless people nationwide over all three days of the survey. Tuesday's report said that 170,706 of them were in shelters.

New York and California had the most people in shelters, together totaling over 59,000. Over 27,000 people were counted in New York City alone.

Advocates for the homeless called for more detailed results. Those figures would help determine where to target services and how to plan budgets for services, said George Smith, director of San Francisco's Office of Homelessness.

Bureau officials on Tuesday said no other details from the survey would be made public.

The survey was not meant to give an official government tally of the homeless, but to add as many people as possible to the overall census, deputy division chief Edison Gore said. That plan won approval from several national homeless advocacy groups, including the National Coalition for the Homeless, Gore said.

An exact count of the homeless is "virtually impossible," said the coalition's education director, Barbara Duffield.

"Homelessness is a temporary condition that people go through," Duffield said, and shelter numbers can vary widely because of weather or the schedule of meals provided.

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