Community leaders, elected officials and citizens braved the cold on Monday to gather in a West Side Walgreen’s parking lot to raise awareness about this year’s Census.
Monday was the opening day of the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2010 National Road Tour, which kicked off in Chicago and will travel to other U.S. cities. The Census is taken every 10 years and officials with the bureau estimate that some communities across the country, including Austin and pockets of the West Side, were under-counted because residents didn’t fill out and/or return their Census forms. Thus, they’ve launched a massive campaign this year to get the word out, which includes reaching out to community organizations, businesses and churches to coordinate a grass-roots outreach effort.
Part of that will entail making the Census forms readily available to residents, according to Reggie
Bacchus, associate pastor of Friendship Baptist Church in Austin and organizer with Austin’s Complete Count Committee, one of the grass-roots groups working with bureau.
“We are actually going to get the surveys and set up in barbershops, Laundromats, phone stores; a lot of it depends on where we can get clearance to put them in,” he said.
Bacchus represented the Austin community at Monday’s rally, which took place at the Walgreen’s on 111 S. Halsted. Austin’s committee has 44 partners, among them local businesses, schools, faith-based and community organizations, and media. The Complete Count Committees are comprised of volunteers.
Austin’s group will be launching an information campaign throughout the neighborhood to stress the significance of this year’s Census. Officials with the bureau note that the Census impacts such things as legislative redistricting and how much money communities get via federal funds. April 1 – “Census Day” – is the deadline to get forms completed and delivered to the bureau, though they can be done earlier.
Austin’s committee will also be setting up “Be Counted” sites throughout the community where individuals can obtain and fill out a Census form, and then have the volunteers handle the mailing. Forms are still mailed to households but bureau officials note that residents sometimes don’t mail the forms back.
Bacchus said the Be Counted sites will be strategically placed in locations that have “wait times,” such as restaurants, clinics and barber shops. These sites will also have Census workers on-hand to answer questions with regard to filling out the form. The Austin committee, as with others, is still in the planning phase concerning its outreach.
“This is just the beginning; it’s going to continue getting bigger and bigger,” said Muriel Jackson, a media specialist with the Chicago Regional Census Center. “It’s an overall effort that began with the partnership of committees [that are] out there doing their own activities.”
Speaking on behalf of Mayor Richard Daley at Monday’s kick-off rally, Alvin Boutte, co-chair of the Chicago Complete Count Committee, hinted at Chicago’s need for federal dollars to repair highways. Albert Pritchett, chairman of Cook County’s committee, urged citizens to partake in the process.
“You have to participate in order for us to get the kind of money we need,” he said.
Attaining proper federal funding via an accurate Census count was the central theme of many guest speakers throughout the day. Boutte also echoed a November 2009 press release by the Daley administration that urged citizens in need of extra income to contact the Census Department for temporary jobs.
Monday’s event marked the start of a three-month road trip that will take the 2010 Census tour around the Chicago Region, including to Wisconsin and Indiana. Complete Count Committees throughout the country have the option of calling their regional branch Census Bureau to have the tour bus visit their area.
“We’re looking at the first week in February, we definitely want to utilize that bus,” said Bacchus.
Austin Weekly News will have additional Census-related coverage up to Census Day April 1.