The Census is coming to a close, but before it does there is one last portion, Service-Based Enumeration (SBE) to be completed. The operation counts people who don't have conventional housing, including those who visit soup kitchens and are experiencing homelessness. Last night I was one of the lead Enumerators on the Targeted Non-Sheltered Outdoor Locations (TNSOL) operation, an overnight procedure that counts people who are living outside on that given night.
It has been quite some time since I've done anything this unique, and I was really looking forward to it. There were meetings on Monday and Tuesday which laid out the details. Each of the areas to be enumerated were chosen based on knowledge of
their use by homeless people. Tuesday afternoon I drove around to the locations our team would be assigned to with my co-leader, who had already done some
reconnaissance in the area.
Yesterday morning, between a flurry of incoming texts from the woman over the whole operation (and responses to her group texts) the pings on my phone were almost nonstop. By mid-afternoon things had died down, and I settled in to take a nap. When the alarm went off I threw dinner together, then packed a bag with snacks, water, and a large thermal cup of coffee. After dinner I changed into old clothes and tennis shoes. The last thing I did was take off my wedding ring and leave it on the bathroom sink.
I arrived at the gathering place on a parking lot by the Census office right on time. The evening started with a pep talk and a reminder of the safety guidelines, then everyone got a safety vest with reflective accents and a flashlight. We broke off into pre-assigned groups, and after one last opportunity to use the bathrooms got an address to put into our phone map app and left for the first location. It would have been fun to carpool and get to know my fellow crew members, but for COVID reasons we were encouraged to drive in our own car. There were approximately 50 people working the operation, so it made for a large line of vehicles all going to the same place.
The first two locations (the areas around a downtown highway overpass, and an area that was bought out as part of an airport expansion years ago) were large, and every group participated in the enumeration. After those were done we broke off into smaller groups. Our crew's next meeting place was a gas station just over the Missouri River, where there were some police officers waiting to escort us to the locations. We walked single file on a barely-visible path through tall weeds to the first location in a park. On the way back we used a paved trail, and checked a highway underpass before returning back to the staring point.
Our next stops were back in St. Louis County. There were three locations in the downtown area of an inner-ring suburb, and two at strip malls a couple of miles away. After we finished all of our assigned locations some of our team chose to join another team who was working in the mid-town area. We canvassed a small portion of a park looking for people spending the night outside, then drove back downtown and did the same at two additional locations.
At each of the stops our group stayed together. Each person carried a clip board and pen to fill out forms for any people that we found. If a person was willing to answer the Census questions the enumerator would write their answers. Otherwise we would just do a population count, reporting them as "Person 1", "Person 2", making no assumptions beyond that. As it got later in the evening everyone was sleeping, and we counted each covered 'lump' as a person.
As we finished each of the locations a courier picked up the paperwork and take it back to the office. We had one official break, but I also found myself munching on something from my bag of snacks each time I was driving to a new location. Every couple of hours we were fortunate to be in a place that had a gas station with a bathroom.
The enumeration at the last location finished up about 4:45 in the morning. It was still dark when I pulled into the garage. I could see a lamp on in our bedroom, and Hubby Tony was already up and getting his day started when I walked in. It took me less than five minutes to say 'hello' and 'good night', brush my teeth, and fall into the bed he had left unmade.
Five years ago today: Purse Fix