“People with P.O. boxes are being excluded,” Shaireen Ali said after completing a census form Saturday afternoon. “I don’t know how census takers are going to count these people.”
The 53-year-old resident of Hamilton Hill said she’s had a P.O. box for the last 6 months. She waited for a census form but never received one in the mail. So she went to the Carver Community Center at 700 Craig St. on Saturday and completed a form.
“This is a crucial time for us not to be cast aside,” she said.
Another man walked in to the center and also said he didn’t receive a form. He was given two and went home.
Organizer Marion Porterfield said a group of 10 volunteers canvassed areas in Schenectady that traditionally have lower response rates for returning census forms — Mont Pleasant, Hamilton Hill and the Vale/Central State Street neighborhoods. The city of Schenectady’s rate of return is currently 52 percent.
A sense of distrust of the government and apathy are among the main reasons people refuse to complete the form, she said. The Census is performed every 10 years. This year, the form has only 10 questions.
“They don’t understand what the information is being used for and they have some concerns,” Porterfield said. Information provided to the Census Bureau remains confidential and protected by federal law. The government uses the data to allocate federal money to states and localities as well as determine the number of seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Nick Walsh, a clerk for the Census Bureau’s office in Albany, said canvassing areas is a proactive strategy that helps the bureau save money since it cuts down the number of extra forms that will have to be sent out. “It’s very important,” he said.
Chilly weather hindered Saturday’s effort, contributing to low turnouts at the Carver Community Center as well as at Central Park’s Pavilion, where “Get Counted” events were held, Porterfield said.
Another Census-related event will be held on April 21 at the Schenectady Community Action Program building located at 913 Albany St. as part of an overall event about financial literacy.
The Census Bureau has reached out to nonprofit organizations, faith-based groups, schools and others to encourage an increase in response rates, according to Monica Arias, co-chair of the Hispanic Complete Count Committee. Agencies are even using iTunes gift cards as an incentive to motivate youth to complete forms. “It’s really a community effort,” Arias said.
Arias said the people she spoke with on Saturday had either not received a form or threw the form away. Others didn’t understand what the form was for.
Schenectady school board president Maxine Brisport was also among the volunteers Saturday. She said many of the people she spoke with had already completed the form.
“A large number of the Guyanese people filled out the form, as well as the elderly. In general, people were favorable,” Brisport said.
One person threw out her form because it was addressed to “Occupant,” Brisport said. But after the person saw television advertisements encouraging people to take the time to complete a form, Brisport said the woman filled out the second form she received in the mail.
“The television ads are very effective,” she said.