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CNN Today

Census 2000 Sets Out to Count the Homeless

Aired March 28, 2000 - 2:38 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: We're nearly two weeks now into the great head count. Maybe somebody should tell those being counted. The Census Bureau says only 42 percent of the forms have been mailed back. One hundred eighteen million homes received them.

Census 2000 is trying something new this time: It's counting those with no permanent address. But how do you tally America's legions of homeless? Volunteers are visiting soup kitchens, homeless shelters and makeshift street camps.

To learn what those counting the homeless are up against, let's check in now in Washington with Laverne Collins of the U.S. Census Bureau.

First of all, Ms. Collins, why are we counting the homeless? What do we hope to learn from that count?

LAVERNE COLLINS, U.S. CENSUS BUREAU: Well, one of the things that the census wants to do is to count everyone that resides in the United States. And what we are doing through our homeless count is going out to those people who may not have been counted in conventional housing.

WATERS: And how are you doing that? I would imagine that's a Herculean task because you don't know after you've counted them where they might be next?

COLLINS: It is quite a large task, and actually we have three phases to the process.

In our first phase, which occurred last night, we went to shelters that take in people who don't have housing.

And then today we're visiting soup kitchens and mobile food vans that have regular scheduled routes. And we'll be counting people that get services or get food at those locations.

And then tomorrow we'll be going to outdoor locations. Most of these have been identified by advocacy groups as places where people may be staying who do not have housing.

WATERS: Like what? Like New York's Central Park?

COLLINS: It could be the park. It could be, I think, in New York also, many of the people without housing reside in the subway stations. So it could be any place that people are staying that's outdoors. And that's where we'll be going, primarily tomorrow, maybe some regions will be doing some of that this evening.

WATERS: And having reported on the homeless in Central Park and knowing that there are some dangerous areas there, are your people also being warned about that?

COLLINS: Yes, we're very concerned about the safety not only of our census takers, but also the people that we are counting, which is one of the reasons we reach out to the homeless community and try to encourage many of them to help us with the count and actually take jobs doing the count, because they know the community. They know the culture, they know the area, and it makes it much less risky if they also participate in the task.

WATERS: And of course you know that many people are homeless because they want to be homeless. They're on the street also because they may have some kind of mental schizophrenia conditions, unable to be coaxed off the street to even treat those diseases. What are you doing with that situation?

COLLINS: Well, what we're trying to do is get as good a count as we can because it's the data from this count that will be used then by policymakers in designing programs that can reach out to people that have those kinds of illnesses or situations that might need some federal assistance.

WATERS: All right, good luck, Laverne Collins of the U.S. Census Bureau.

COLLINS: Thank you very much.

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