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
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
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
``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
``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.
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.''