The Census: People Who Count

People Who Count

In the belief that a bad estimate is better than none, the Census Bureau last week dispatched 15,000 head counters on a 14-hour manhunt. Clipboards in hand, maps at the ready, the enumerators peered under bridges, down subway platforms, through alleys to figure out whether there are 600,000 homeless people, as some researchers estimate, or 3 million, as advocacy groups maintain.

The resultant "snapshot" of the homeless, critics warn, may not be of much use in identifying either their numbers or their needs. Too few counters had too little time to cover too much territory. Among places they skipped: subway tunnels,...

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