Counting the Homeless:

Limitations of 1990 Census Results and Methodology

T-GGD-91-29: Published: May 9, 1991. Publicly Released: May 9, 1991.

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GAO discussed the limitations in the Census Bureau's shelter and street night enumeration of the homeless. GAO noted that: (1) the Bureau cautioned against use of data from the 1990 enumeration to construct a count of the homeless population; (2) the Bureau's 1990 approach, which did not utilize opportunities identified in a 1984 evaluation of census operations, could be inferior to its 1980 approach; (3) despite positive results from a daytime survey method it tested in 1989, the Bureau was unable to use those methods due to its late start in planning and testing for counting the homeless; (4) if the Bureau had aggressively addressed the 1984 recommendations and initiated planning and testing earlier, it could have been able to overcome the procedural problems with a daytime count; (5) the nighttime count suffered from a number of operational limitations, including large numbers of cases not being interviewed or even seeing enumerators; (6) the Bureau noted that 44 of its district offices missed 5 percent of shelters; and (7) efforts to develop estimates of the homeless population were hampered by the lack of an agreed-upon and measurable definition of homelessness and its primary components.

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