Local nonprofit Puente gears up to count every household in 2020 census

Corina Rodriguez is worried that people in her community won’t get counted in the 2020 census. And she has good reason to be.

Rodriguez is the Safety Net Services Manager at Puente, a nonprofit community resource center in San Mateo County’s South Coast region. SVCF supports Puente’s programs with grant funding. The South Coast community has a large immigrant population, some undocumented, with many people living in unstable, unconventional housing.

There are a lot of obstacles to getting an accurate 2020 census count in this community: fear surrounding a likely citizenship question on the form; a lack of reliable internet access (for the first time ever census information will be collected predominantly online); and residents living in unconventional housing with no mail delivery. It’s also not rare for two families to share housing. So even if the unit gets a census invite, it will likely be one, not two. It’s going to be difficult.

Getting an accurate census count is important to every Californian for a lot of reasons. Census data is used to determine all kinds of things, from the number of seats California has in congress to the amount of federal dollars available for critical programs. Full participation in the census means California gets its fair share of more than $675 billion in federal funding.

Census data is even used by nonprofits, as Rodrigez points out: “Even when we apply for funding, we need to account for the number of people that we serve in our community.”

Puente is determined to get the unconventional housing units in its community counted in the 2020 census. Unconventional housing units are common in the Bay Area and include RVs, garages or in-law units. If these units aren’t added to the U.S. Census Bureau’s residential address list, they will not receive an invitation in the mail to participate in the census.

To make that happen, Rodriguez and her Puente colleagues – with SVCF funding for the effort – sat down with a representative from San Mateo County to map out unconventional housing units in the South Coast community to ensure that everyone gets an invitation to complete a census form.

This was no small task. Staff working for the county created a series of maps showing known addresses from the county's database. From there, they used a combination of Google maps and hard copy maps to draw unconventional housing units directly on the maps, with the help of Puente.

Rodrigez grew up in the South Coast region, so she was able to look at a map and say, “There’s a little garage behind this house…there’s a little shed.” The lack of mailboxes at such housing poses a problem, however – many people pick up their mail at post office boxes – and the fear of a citizenship question poses yet another. “We knew we were pinpointing the housing of people who may not want to be pinpointed,” Rodriguez said.

This process of adding housing to the census address list is known as the Local Update of Census Addresses, or LUCA for short. Funding LUCA efforts was the beginning of SVCF’s 2020 census work. As part of the Bay Area Census Funders Collaborative, SVCF just closed a request for proposals to fund local census work and will announce grantees here in August.  

Puente is hoping that community trust in the resource center, and familiarity, will help counteract some of the census obstacles. Puente is getting the word out about the importance of the census via two local “health promoters,” women who are well known in the community and work with Puente on door-to-door efforts along with Puente’s Outreach Coordinator.

It’s not uncommon for people to seek help from Puente when they have questions about other paperwork, such as CalFresh forms. Rodriguez says she hopes this helps encourage people to come in for help with their census forms if they don’t have internet access.  She hopes that by involving familiar faces, using role playing and telling people in advance what will be on the form, residents will feel comfortable completing the census. She also explains why census is important.

“I tell them that if they want a childcare center, or something else to benefit the community, we need an accurate count of the amount of people who need it.”

It is often the communities with the most need that are at risk of being undercounted. SVCF’s census work is centered on these hard-to-count communities in the Bay Area. The South Coast region is one of them.

With Census Day coming up in less than a year, SVCF is fundraising for census efforts. If you would like to learn more about the importance of the census, please visit www.siliconvalleycf.org/census2020 for more information. If you would like to donate to local census efforts, there are two ways to do so. If you're an SVCF fundholder you can make a donation through your donor portal. If you're a member of the general public, you can make a secure donation here.  

To learn more about the struggles of the South Coast community, read SVCF’s 2017 report, San Mateo County’s Forgotten South Coast Residents.