A small fire could be seen burning in the distance of an abandoned railroad property in backwoods Beaver County early this morning. For the dozen of us census workers who spent the early morning hours today attempting to count the homeless population in our zone, this was exactly what we were looking for.
We trekked down a long and winding gravel road that led to the secluded camp site unsure of what we might find. The glow of the fire brightened the closer we inched with flashlights trained on the area. But when we arrived at the fire, there was no one there, just a red car with a legally registered Pennsylvania plate and other indications that someone in another car left hurriedly minutes before. We had been fooled. Instead of enumerating someone, we likely had been stalking a couple of teenagers drinking beer.
Beginning at 12 a.m. today, census workers fanned out across the country to canvass Targeted Non-sheltered Outdoor Locations, or TNSOL, searching for homeless people who would be otherwise omitted from the decennial count. Our group searched six places in our region that previous canvassers indicated might be where the homeless population stays. Wearing reflective vests and holding flashlights and clipboards, we searched local parks, underneath bridges and in densely wooded areas, but found no one during the three-hour event. The frigid temperatures likely sent the people we were looking for into shelters for the nights.
Although it was unsatisfying, it still felt important that we made the effort to count those who are the most neglected in our society. The U.S. Census Bureau's effort to count these people across the country should give a more accurate representation of who we are as a nation. And it shows that the 2010 Census is about more than just a paper form to be filled out and mailed back.
1 week ago