The Miami Herald
March 11, 2001

Haitians fearing census numbers

                                      Undercount could cause funds shortfall

                                      BY JACQUELINE CHARLES

                                      Annette Petit-Frre sits in a chair in the waiting area of a
                                      social-service agency in Little Haiti, slumping under the
                                      burden of her worries while waiting for basics, shelter and

                                      She doesn't remember getting a U.S. Census questionnaire
                                      last year, and answering the government's list of questions
                                      wasn't exactly high on her list of priorities.

                                      ``I thought it was something for citizens,'' said Petit-Frre, 46.

                                      Petit-Frre isn't alone. There are many like her throughout
                                      Miami's Little Haiti neighborhood, and possibly thousands
                                      throughout Miami-Dade County, who went uncounted in the
                                      2000 Census.

                                      U.S. Commerce Secretary Don Evans decided last week not
                                      to adjust the 2000 Census data to estimate people who
                                      weren't counted -- mostly minorities, immigrants, children
                                      and the poor. He was following a recommendation from the
                                      Census Bureau, which found conflicts in the numbers that
                                      made it impossible for the bureau to determine whether
                                      adjusted numbers would be more accurate than the initial
                                      head count.

                                      Because federal agencies use census data to determine the
                                      annual distribution of more than $180 billion in grants to local
                                      governments, South Florida officials fear the decision will
                                      cost local programs some federal aid.

                                      Preliminary census data suggest that undercounts occurred
                                      in black, Hispanic and immigrant neighborhoods like
                                      Overtown, Wynwood and Little Haiti in Miami-Dade.

                                      It's a fate that Haitian-American activists tried to avoid. But
                                      despite all their radio ads, bumper stickers and pep rallies to
                                      get residents to fill out their forms and let counters into their
                                      homes, early indications are that many people were still

                                      ``It's amazing,'' said Ludnel St.-Preux, executive director of
                                      the Haitian American Community Association of Dade
                                      County, or HACAD, a nonprofit social-service agency in
                                      Little Haiti. ``Just when you think you are not going to have
                                      to deal with these types of issues again, they keep coming

                                      St.-Preux and others have long contended that countless
                                      Haitian Americans, both legal and illegal immigrants, were
                                      among the estimated 100,000 people not counted in the
                                      1990 Census of Miami-Dade.

                                      SEARCH FOR ANSWERS

                                      With news of another probable undercount, community
                                      leaders are looking for answers. Some place the blame on
                                      the Census Bureau. Activists say it did not heed early
                                      warnings about how to proceed in Little Haiti, a
                                      neighborhood of mostly poor, Haitian immigrants who suffer
                                      from a language barrier and distrust of the government.

                                      James Holmes, regional director for the census in Atlanta,
                                      said this was the first he had heard about concerns by the
                                      Haitian community about how the campaign was handled in

                                      If Miami gets less government grant money because of the
                                      undercount, countless neighborhood projects will have to
                                      compete for a smaller pot of money. And people like
                                      Petit-Frre, an unemployed mother of two who is 10 days
                                      away from being evicted, will have even fewer places to turn
                                      for help.

                                      ``Census information is so critical for low-income
                                      neighborhoods,'' said David Harder, executive director of the
                                      Little Haiti Housing Association. The group builds
                                      low-income, affordable housing units and relies heavily on
                                      federal community development block grants in its quest to
                                      rid the area of substandard housing and overgrown vacant

                                      ``With having less money, there are fewer of these projects
                                      that can be done,'' said Harder, who notes that 70 percent of
                                      the housing in the area is substandard and residents pay
                                      more than 50 percent of their income on it.

                                      Social-service officials say they don't know exactly how
                                      much money is affected by the undercount. But with census
                                      numbers lower than the real population, it's harder for
                                      agencies to demonstrate the need for services like housing
                                      vouchers, meals to the elderly and job training and
                                      employment placement.

                                      ``If these people are not identified, you can't get the grants,''
                                      said Betty Sylvestre, program director at the Catholic
                                      Charities-Pierre Toussaint Center in Little Haiti.

                                      Among the center's various programs is a federally funded
                                      free job training and employment program. Sylvestre says
                                      the center helps about 400 clients, mostly Little Haiti
                                      residents, on a quarterly basis. The $600,000 grant that
                                      funds the program runs out in June, and the center will have
                                      to reapply for new funding.

                                      Whether the program continues or not, Sylvestre said, will
                                      be based on her ability to demonstrate a need. She says
                                      she can only hope the numbers are there.

                                      Though evidence of Little Haiti's poverty is apparent
                                      throughout the neighborhood -- dilapidated buildings,
                                      trash-filled lots, food lines -- it remains to be seen whether it
                                      shows up in census data.

                                      AGENCY COMPETITION

                                      The consensus throughout the community is that groups are
                                      already competing for scarce dollars, and an undercount will
                                      mean less access to services for the poor, especially

                                      ``We did everything we were asked, we initiated activities to
                                      make sure people were counted in Little Haiti, but there were
                                      instances where the rules had changed and we didn't know
                                      anything about it,'' said Aude Sicard, president of the
                                      Women's Alliance of Broward and Miami-Dade.

                                      ``It's like we were behind on everything, playing catch-up,''
                                      she said. ``We feel the Census Bureau dropped the ball in
                                      that area in terms of reaching out to the Haitian community
                                      and doing what we thought was needed to be done. They did
                                      not listen to us. We were totally ignored.''

                                      In addition, the overall marketing campaign did not target the
                                      Haitian community, others said.

                                      ``People are not really aware of the different issues that
                                      affect our community and how you get in,'' said Danielle
                                      Romer, executive director of Haitian Support Inc., which runs
                                      a 1-800 support line for Haitian immigrants. Romer, who at
                                      one point turned the line into a census helpline, said she
                                      gathered the names of 300 individuals who said they had not
                                      received a census form.

                                      ``I am surprised to hear these comments at this point in the
                                      process,'' said Holmes, the regional director. ``My office did
                                      not have any discussions with anyone about that. We had a
                                      number of offices in Miami-Dade County and I can't respond
                                      to any conversations that occurred between them.''