Illustrative photo of Census worker collecting survey responses. Nearly 17,000 workers will visit 1 million homes by the Sept. 30 deadline. U.S. Census Bureau
Illustrative photo of Census worker collecting survey responses. Nearly 17,000 workers will visit 1 million homes by the Sept. 30 deadline. U.S. Census Bureau

The U.S. Census Bureau’s plan to end door-to-door survey collection and self-responses on Sept. 30 blindsided them, government officials and Haitian community leaders said. Now, they are scrambling to have more people complete the survey by the new deadline. 

“We thought we were going to get an extension to get more people counted,” said Santra Denis, president and founder of Avanse Ansanm, a community organization working to  get Haitians in Florida to respond to the Census. “So this is coming out of left field.”

To increase Census responses in the remaining weeks, advocates are trying new approaches, including socially distanced 10-minute completion sessions.

“It’s all about continuing to do the work to reassure folks that they need to be counted,” said Leonie Hermantin, director of development and communications for Miami’s Sant La Haitian Neighborhood Center. “They must be counted because resources will not come to communities unless we are counted.” 

Disruptive Tactics Yield Lower Responses 

The coronavirus pandemic and President Donald Trump’s repeated attempts to disrupt the count have had a noticeable effect on Florida response rates, advocates said.

“This administration’s perspective was that there were folks they didn’t want to be counted — undocumented folks and folks with immigrant backgrounds,” Denis said. 

Haitian enclaves like Pompano Beach, Lauderdale Lakes, Fort Lauderdale, Lauderhill and North Lauderdale each have response rates under 40%. The national average is around 64%.

In New York City, some neighborhoods with the worst response rates are in Brooklyn and Queens, said Kathleen Daniel, NYC’s Census 2020 Field Director. Among those areas, many with large Haitian populations such as Canarsie, were below 40%.

Covid-19 also struck the low-response neighborhoods, advocates and officials said, making it challenging for residents to focus on the Census. 

Also, many elderly Haitians cannot complete the Census form online because they lack digital access, the advocates said.

“The usual ways that people are able to get the information out was by knocking on doors, going to churches and helping folks,” Denis said. “That approach is not feasible because of COVID-19 safety precautions in place.”

New Approaches to Count More People

To reach community members, officials and leaders are trying a variety of approaches.

Hermantin, based in Miami, has since joined a coalition of community groups to help residents complete the Census and explain why it is important. Much of it is reassuring people about the benefits of being counted.

Likewise, in New York City, Bitta Mostofi, Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, explained at a recent event the critical importance of the Census.

“When it comes to how many vaccines we’ll need for COVID-19, how big our unemployment checks, or even decisions about whether we go to war – if we don’t participate in the Census, it’s as if we don’t exist,” Mostofi said. 

To ramp up, more than 17,000 Census takers will visit 1 million homes between now and the September deadline, officials said.

Working with the Census Bureau, advocates and leaders said, they will try to walk people through completing the 10-question form in person — in less than 10 minutes. Or, they can complete it over the phone by calling 844-330-2020.

Haitian Creole and French interpreters are available to help people complete the form.

Advocates and leaders are also doing more education on Covid-related challenges that have hindered Census completion.

After learning that many people who are in between permanent homes since Covid-19 did not know which location to say they live in, the leaders now state the rules clearly. For that group, they said, anyone going through eviction or who fled their home as a result of the coronavirus should use the address they lived in as of Apr. 1.

If necessary, Census Bureau officials said they will speak with landlords, building managers and neighbors to create a vague sketch of the people who lived in a unit before leaving the area, said Jeff Behler, Census Bureau regional director for New York.

Jonathan Greig is a journalist based in New York City working as a contributing writer for CBS Interactive. He recently returned to the United States after reporting from South Africa, Jordan, and Cambodia since 2013.

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