Efforts mount to get everyone counted in Kalamazoo

Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave’s On the Ground Kalamazoo series.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, there are 8,717 people living in Kalamazoo’s Edison Neighborhood.

Tammy Taylor, executive director of the Edison Neighborhood Association, will tell you it’s more like 9,000. And it could be more than 10,000.

“In 2000, I had over 10,000 residents in my census tracts,” Taylor says. “In 2010, I only have 8,717? Where did my people go?”

Her fear – which leaders in many low- to moderate-income communities share – is that a large group of people in her area did not respond during the 2010 Census and will not respond when 2020 Census-taking kicks off on March 12.

“It’s fair that some houses have been torn down and other things have happened,” Taylor says of possible reasons for the drop in Edison’s census count. But she asked again,  “Where did my people go?”

Edison is Kalamazoo’s largest neighborhood, bordered on the north by a portion of East Michigan Avenue, on the east by the Kalamazoo River, on the south by Miller Road and on the west by Burdick Street. It also lays claims to having the city’s largest Hispanic population.

An estimated 17 percent of its residents are Hispanic. But Taylor says, “I’m pretty confident that’s its higher than 17 percent.”

Taylor worries that some of those households will not participate at all, fearing they will expose an undocumented family member to deportation. The census requires people to provide basic information about everyone who lives or sleeps in their home. By law, those responses cannot be shared with anyone outside of the Census Bureau, according to information provided by the government.

“The issue isn’t that they’re all undocumented,” Taylor says. “The issue is there may be one family member undocumented – maybe a grandparent or an auntie or an uncle.  … When you’re dealing with multi-generational families living together, that can mean 10 to 15 people who don’t get counted.”

Cheryl Lord, executive director of the Oakwood Neighborhood Association, says, “My concern is that people in Oakwood continue to be under-reported,” she says. “And those most likely to be left out are the lower-income people. … If lower-income people are not adequately represented, it makes it look like we are higher-income and in less need of resources. Thus this may reflect in receiving fewer needed resources. That makes it that much harder to help those in need.”

The negative consequence is that the community misses out on funding to: 

• Support local schools, roads, and other public services;

• Help communities prepare to meet transportation and emergency readiness needs;

• Determine the number of seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives and political representation at various levels of government.

Government sources annually provide $1,800 per person in federal funding ($18,000 over the 10-year period from census to census).

Along with money for highways, roads and bridges, the potentially impacted services and programs bring more than $14.5 billion in funding to Michiganders each year. They include:

• Medicare/Medicaid and health centers

• SNAP/WIC/School lunches;

• Title I, IDEA, Headstart programs;

• Section 8 housing;

• Foster Care, child care and S-CHIP programs.

A cluster of 25 area nonprofit agencies have joined forces to help educate people and support greater participation in the census.

Although there are options to participate by telephone and by filling out a written form, the 2020 Census will primarily be taken online here.  

The Edison Neighborhood Association, at 816 Washington Ave. will, for instance, have two computers available, specifically for people to use for the census. Among other locations where the census can be taken include: The Disability Network of Southwest Michigan, El Concilio, Eastside Neighborhood Association, Kalamazoo Public Library, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Ministry with Community, Mothers of Hope, the Northside Association for Community Development, the Ecumenical Senior Center, the Metropolitan Kalamazoo Branch of the NAACP, Waldo Library, the YMCA of Greater Kalamazoo, Young Kings and Queens Inc. and the Vine Neighborhood Association.

“The state is working on it. The county is working on it. The city is working on it. And a bunch of nonprofits are working on it,” Taylor says.

In Kalamazoo County, United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region is leading the effort to connect with historically undercounted populations, working with 30 organizations including municipalities and nonprofits. Between August 2019 and February 2020, UWBCKR provided 25 grants to 19 agencies, totaling $90,000, to support programming to drive census education and access to the census, including kiosks at various locations and a number of upcoming census events. United Way also continues to host an advisory committee of these and other organizations to make sure every person is counted. You can find more, including a calendar of the upcoming events found here

More information is available to contacting almost of the neighborhood organizations mentioned, including the Edison Neighborhood Association at 269-382-0916.

Read more articles by Al Jones.

Al Jones is a freelance writer who has worked for many years as a reporter, editor, and columnist. He is the Project Editor for On the Ground Kalamazoo.
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