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Recount of Homeless Migrants Unfinished

March 27, 1990|JONATHAN GAW and NANCY RAY | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

San Diego census officials reversed themselves Monday, saying the recount of North County's homeless migrants is incomplete and will continue this week.

Dan Conway, a spokesman for the Census Bureau in San Diego, said Friday that the recount had been completed that morning, but a bureau official in Los Angeles said that only half of the recount is finished.

Conway confirmed Monday that only 40% of the camps that officials had planned to recount on Friday were visited.

The Census Bureau had been chastised by homeless advocates for using an insufficient number of bilingual census takers in the original migrant count, which took place Wednesday morning and was plagued with reports of enumerators not being able to communicate with migrants.

The recount was deemed necessary after census officials discovered that enumerators only took head counts of the homeless migrants instead of interviewing them. The interviews are needed to provide accurate characteristics of the homeless migrant population.

But, when the Census Bureau conducted the recount Friday without informing either the press or homeless advocates in advance, it raised suspicions among homeless advocates that the bureau wanted to do the recount without outside scrutiny.

Conway said that the bureau will not provide advance notice of the second phase of the recount.

"Providing advance knowledge of the recount may create a focus on the migrant workers whereby it will frighten them or scare them into leaving the area or being hesitant to respond to us," Conway said. "We don't want to create a situation which will hinder us from getting a complete count of the migrant population."

Conway conceded that there were no instances in which the press hindered the census during the first count, but said that "the situation has changed."

"The original count was spread out. However, this is a very small geographical area and prior notice could potentially hinder a complete count."

Migrant camps are situated between Rancho Penasquitos and Oceanside and from the coast east to Pauma Valley, an area spanning more than 300 square miles.

Conway said 80 bilingual enumerators will be involved in the second half of the recount, which will occur "sometime this week." Census takers will go out into the canyons between 5 and 9 a.m.

Census takers involved in the original count of the homeless migrants have reported that the count was a fiasco, with the methodology not suited to counting migrants.

"If we had been allowed to go outside of the places marked on the map, we would have found more (camps)," said a crew chief who participated in the first North County migrant census. "One of my workers commented that, if the strawberries were in season, there would have been a lot more workers around."

"I know where there a good half dozen (migrant camps) around me, but we were told where to go and where not to go. We could only go to places which were marked. . . . Some of them were camps and some of them weren't."

Homeless advocates in North County also said they know of migrant camps with people that were not counted, but Conway said that, even if people turn in lists of more migrant camps, it will be too late to incorporate those into the recount.

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