We ARE here: Census 2020

This is our hood, Bayview Hunters Point, once known as the fiercest in the Bay, the Black heartland of San Francisco, now a mix of Blacks, Latinos and Asians with a few whites – home to the “last Black folks in San Francisco.” In a city that was 17 percent Black a few years ago, is the population really down to 3 percent? Where are they, our neighbors who are afraid to be counted in the Census? WE NEED YOU TO BE COUNTED so we can get our fair share of the resources – the money – we need to make San Francisco a city where Black people can thrive! – Photo: Marc Ballesteros (2016)

by Kelly Cousins and Dr. Dayo M. Diggs, Family Support Services

In our current political climate, we all have a lot more questions than answers. Like, is California in another drought? Remember when Taco Joe’s was on Third Street? Is that what really happened to Ghost? 

Why should I give the government any of my information? The answer to the last one is easy: Because you DO exist. The Bayview Hunters Point community has a strong and lasting history. History making leaders and powerful movements. Letting the government know YOU DO EXIST is one way to preserve it. 

The Census is a program that counts. That is all; it simply counts all of the people in the United States. It is a short survey that asks nine questions to let the budget office in Washington, D.C., know how to allocate funding to states. 

Here is what the Census is NOT. It is not a chance for the government to save your information, organize it and look for you. In fact, the Census does not ask anything about income, educational level, social security number, or your citizenship status. 

We know this for a fact, because the confidentiality protections on Census data today are the strongest they have ever been. The current Census Act prohibits employees of the Census Bureau from using Census data for any purpose that is not related to population-based statistics. 

This includes, but is not limited to sharing personal Census responses with officials from any other government agency. So, Census employees will NOT share your personally identifiable information with ICE, the FBI or the Trump administration. 

The Census is an important tool in national decision making for two very important reasons: money and representation. Every year, the federal government allocates over $600 billion in funding throughout the country. The Census is what helps them to make final decisions about how much funding goes where. 

It also determines how many representatives each state has in Washington, D.C. We rely on our representatives to fight for us to get the money we need, and the policies that support our interests. A low count on the Census will mean that California could lose seats in Congress, and thus lose our ability to influence decisions made there. 

Remember this, California is the largest state in the nation and we have the largest budget as well. Not everyone is happy for us. Get it? 

So, the Census is how our community gets money. They cannot give money to people they do not know exist. Let me give you an example. San Francisco has an estimated population of 800,000. We receive funding, basically, per person. This funding, by way of state and city grants along with other funding supports programs and community-based organizations. Bay Area nonprofits need the financial support that accurate Census data could bring. 

The organization I work at, Family Support Services, is a great example. The majority of the families that Family Support Services serves in our programs are “hard to count” populations, i.e. unhoused families, families of color, families with children under the age of 5, English as a second language households, families with children who have disabilities, and aging caregivers, and let’s be honest, all of these populations have very good reasons to not trust the government. 

As such, if any of those populations are not counted, Family Support Services could suffer, because their contracts with county governments are dependent on population data. Without accurate data, we and other nonprofits may receive less funding, which would limit our ability to serve families. 

All of this is especially important now when we are faced with an administration that systematically attempts to minimize the voices of people of color, immigrants, people of limited or varied abilities, unhoused people and so many others. Many of these families depend on services like Section 8 Housing, SNAP and Head Start, which receive funding based on population. 

The Census is a tool that can and should be wielded by communities working together to make sure that they are given the respect and attention that they deserve to thrive. 

All of this is made harder by the fact that the Census only happens once in a decade. So, if there is a low count on the Census, that means that the whole country will be stuck using bad data that does not represent YOU for the next 10 years. 

There is a lot at stake if we are not able to pull out a complete count on the 2020 Census. Bayview Hunters Point and all of the San Francisco neighborhoods stand to lose millions of dollars for services and programs that everyone uses. 

Sitting out of the Census does not just hurt you; it hurts your family and your community as well. The Census is a tool that can and should be wielded by communities working together to make sure that they are given the respect and attention that they deserve to thrive. 

Bayview Hunters Point is unique and vibrant and deserves to be seen as the proud community that it is. We cannot bury our heads in the sand and pretend that, because we do not like the government, or because they have burned us in the past, we are exempt from participating in our democracy. We have a right, and we also have a responsibility to make sure that Bayview/Hunters Point is able to continue to grow and thrive. 

To learn how to complete the Census, keep an eye out for your Census postcard in the mail in March, or visit https://sf.gov/topics/census-2020

Both authors are staff member of Family Support Services: Kelly Cousins is a development associate and Dr. Dayo Diggs is director of Family Perseveration Programs. Their mission is to “nurture children, youth and caregivers to keep families healthy and intact.” To learn more about Family Support Services, visit www.fssba.org