Be counted: How Orlando and Orange County are spreading the word about Census 2020 and why it matters

Officials want to make sure everyone is represented

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Undercounted and underserved.

This is the reality for many parts of Central Florida.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, billions of dollars in federal funds and grants did not end up going to certain communities, all because there was an undercount in certain areas during the 2010 Census.

“You count. You matter. You live your experience,” attorney Channa Lloyd said, Lloyd is helping get the word out about the 2020 Census locally. “When you don’t answer the census, there’s a child who can’t enroll in Head Start because there’s a waiting list. That’s the consequence. You are living the effect of not answering the census. When you go to certain communities and the hospital wait time is an hour and a half and others have 15 minutes, it’s because those weren’t accounted for in the census. So every person matters.”

Reginald McGill is the city staff lead for the outreach effort in Orlando.

He said during the last census, only 74% of the people living in the city limits were counted.

“You’re talking about one out of every four persons did not count,” McGill said. “We want to be able to service the people who live here. And we’re really concerned about transportation and roads. That’s really critical if we don’t get a good count.”

He agrees trusted voices are vital to getting the message out about the importance of the census, and why not filling one out could end up hurting your family.

“It could be one more student who won’t get a Pell grant, one more student who won’t get Head Start. It could mean one less member in Congress for us,” McGill said.

The Orlando Complete Count Committee is developing partnerships with local libraries, colleges, and civic organizations to get the word out, and to make sure everyone living here is counted.

“Orlando deserves to get its fair share of whatever resources are available,” said Orlando Complete Committee Chair Leila Allen. “And to those living in Orlando - its a benefit to each one of us.”

Allen says one of the biggest barriers they face collecting census data is getting people to trust the process isn't going to be used against them.

“Some people are afraid, some people are concerned about privacy issues,” Allen said. “When we can talk to those individuals when we can get trusted voices in the community to talk to those people to alleviate the concerns - we feel that we have a better opportunity to get them to fill out the questionnaire.”

One thing city and county workers and leaders are doing to improve this year’s count is canvassing some of those historically hard to count areas.

City workers confirm it’s crucial because Central Florida keeps growing at an alarming pace, an estimated 1,500 people moving in every week to Central Florida alone.

This 2020 Census snapshot in time will affect how much federal money Central Florida will receive during the next 10 years.

“It’s nice having nice sidewalks,” said Jay Diamond, who lives in the Orange County community of Holden Heights.

Diamond says he moved to the area three years ago and said he’s seen exactly what federal dollars can do for a community.

In the time he's been there, federal funds helped pay for new sidewalks and paved roads, even a new state of the art community center.

“It makes it good and accessible,” said Diamond “You see kids playing. You see people that need sidewalks for accessibility getting out. Anything you can do to help this neighborhood improve and have more accountability is good for everybody.”

Melvin Pittman is the Complete Count Committee Chair for Orange County and says he remembers what Holden Heights used to look like. He spent nearly 40 years with the orange county government and saw first hand how federal funding helped turned things around.

“This was really one of the areas that was run down. This lake was in bad shape. The community center was not there - it was an old dilapidated building,” Pittman says. “The streets here were not paved. A lot of houses were in bad shape. The census has made a difference in this area.”

Pittman said federal dollars brought on by the 2010 census count led to newly paved roads, a cleaned-up pond, and the brand new community center in Holden Heights.

He said more could have been done in this area, had more people answered the census 10 years ago.

Right now, Holden Heights is one of five areas in Orange County that volunteers and census workers will be targetting.

The others are Eatonville, South Apopka, Orlo Vista, and Pine Hills.

Lavon Williams with the Orange County Complete Count Committee team confirms these specific areas lost out on millions of dollars in federal aid during the last census - all because some people refused to fill out the census, or under-reported the number of people living in their homes.

"So that means we don't get the number of classrooms that we need, we don't get the funding we need for free and reduced lunch to serve families, we don't get enough for early childcare," said Williams.

That’s why workers and volunteers are working together, to break down the language barriers and other barriers that have prevented people from filling out the census in the past.

“It could be a pastor, it could be an elected official, it could be a grandmother. The lady that sells the flips in the neighborhood - all of those people can make a positive difference,” McGill said.

This will be the first time the census will be able to be completed online, but you can also either call in your information or fill out the census paperwork that will be sent to you if you choose to opt-out of the digital option.

Places like the Holden Heights Community Center will even have computers and kiosks available for those who want to fill out the census online, but don’t have access to a computer or smartphone at home.