New America Media, News feature/, Cassidy Friedman, Posted: Jan 01, 2010
SAN FRANCISCO – California is counting on its nonprofits for outreach in the 2010 Census. But a widespread shortage of community-based organizations in the state’s poorest communities, which have historically been toughest to count, could spark undercounts even in cities that appear best equipped to tackle census outreach, organizers say.
“This is a big, big challenge,” said Ted Wang, a census consultant with Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees, which is coordinating private sector funding for outreach in California. “Neighborhoods that have the least amount of infrastructure often are the ones that are the most difficult to count.”
San Francisco is a case in point. No county in California has spent anywhere near the city’s $570,000 investment on outreach, according to city officials. San Francisco is also home to 2,879 public charity nonprofits – more per capita than any other county in the state, public records show. But an investigation by New America Media found that despite these achievements, in Bay View-Hunters Point and Visitacion Valley, neighborhoods where the response rates to the 2000 Census were lowest and the need for outreach in 2010 is arguably greatest, there are disproportionately few nonprofits and very little capacity to do outreach.
The city’s solution – to fund outside nonprofits that serve a wider area to go door-to-door in the two neighborhoods – won’t achieve the same results as using native nonprofits, said Sharen Hewitt, executive director of the Community Leadership Academy and Emergency Response Project (C.L.A.E.R.), based in Visitacion Valley. Hewitt believes such organizations may “fall short on making people feel comfortable opening their doors.”
If so, this “funding gap” may contribute to a repeat of the 2000 census, when the city was undercounted by 100,000, resulting in a loss of more than $300 million in federal funding, according to a 2007 study.
If the same pattern repeats across the state, California residents could lose billions of federal dollars for vital services over the next decade.
IMPACTS ON THE CENSUS
When San Francisco announced earlier this year that it had $300,000 to fund a nonprofit census-outreach collaborative, the city encouraged organizations in Bay View and Visitacion Valley to apply.
“We were looking for people that knew the population and the population trusted,” said Adrienne Pon, executive director of the city’s Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs.
City officials hoped to fund a team of nonprofits that were already regularly engaged with the same hard-to-count residents they would be targeting for the census.
In 2000, those demographics included the many public housing residents who complained they never received a census questionnaire or whose addresses were missing from the US Census Bureau master list. Homeless people, non-English speakers, undocumented immigrants and young adults also ranked high on the list.
But those demographics are changing in subtle ways that only a native nonprofit can detect, Hewitt said.
After a competitive process, a selection committee composed of grant makers and foundation representatives hired a collaborative of 13 nonprofits, including New America Media, to conduct census outreach.
None of the 13 nonprofits are headquartered in Bay View-Hunters Point or Visitacion Valley. The organizations do, however, clearly meet other funding criteria, and four of the organizations serve large swaths of the city, which include the southeastern neighborhoods.
The few “obvious good matches” in both Bay View and Visitacion Valley were stretched to capacity and declined to apply, said Pon.
Hewitt argues outreach was inadequate, despite what city officials call a “rigorous” outreach campaign, which included a well-attended workshop and public notices. Although CLAER met the eligibility criteria, the nonprofit was never consulted about the existence of funding, she said.
N’Tanya Lee, director of Coleman Advocates – one of the census grant recipients - admits being based outside the neighborhoods puts the collaborative at a disadvantage.
“Many community members … don’t trust the services (and) because they’re not indigenous community institutions they’re often not culturally relevant,” Lee said.
The lack of nonprofits in San Francisco’s southeast corner reflects a statewide trend of nonprofits falling outside highest need areas, according Dr. Carol J. Silverman, a researcher at UC Berkeley and author of a recent study of San Francisco’s nonprofit sector.
Nonprofits tend to clamor around hubs for civic institutions, for example, San Francisco’s downtown, said Silverman.
But Bay View Hunters Point faces its own challenges, Lee said.
Census outreach did not draw “the same kind of zeal or participation at any level” from Bay View’s predominantly African American population as it did from nonprofits based elsewhere in the city, according to Angelo King, chairman of the Bay View-Hunters Point Project Area Committee.
Hunters Point Naval Shipyard, once the area’s principal employer, lured tens of thousands of African Americans to San Francisco in the 1940s and 1950s. Since the shipyard shuttered in the 1970s, San Francisco has experienced “a more significant decline in the African American population than anywhere in the country,” Lee said.
“And with that decline has come a decline in the strength of our community institutions, our political institutions, our agencies, the leadership in the community – so many people have left to the East Bay and other parts of the country that there just isn’t the same capacity in the community to serve its own interests and to serve its own needs,” Lee said.
Million of Dollars are at Stake
California cut nearly all outreach funding for Census 2010 after shelling out nearly $25 million for the 2000 census, although the philanthropic sector responded by filling in some of the gaps in public funding, contributing almost $8 million in California, including more than $700,000 to the Bay Area, Wang estimated. Meanwhile, the US Census Bureau does not compensate nonprofits doing outreach. The decline in outreach resources since the 2000 census means the success of San Francisco’s nonprofit collaborative will be crucial to the city’s poorest neighborhoods.
Said Lee, “Millions of dollars are at stake that could be coming to these communities that they’re not accessing now because of this historic undercount.”
Michelle Yeung, a community advocate for the lead agency in the collaborative, Chinese for Affirmative Action, said the group is creating a plan to compensate for a lack of nonprofits based in the southeast. That strategy entails networking with their members, local service providers, and asking other familiar faces in the communities to assist them in going door to door.