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Island gears up to get accurate census count

During the 2000 census, census workers who went to communities with Caribbean immigrants on Long Island found residents who had filled out the questionnaire but held onto it. They were waiting for the agency to pick it up, as was done in their home countries.

So as the Census Bureau prepares for the 2010 count, it will emphasize in future advertising campaigns the need for residents to mail the form back.

From the census viewpoint, those Caribbean immigrants were deemed "hard to count," though understandably so. To make the 2010 count as complete as possible, the bureau plans to focus on "hard-to-count" communities.

Mostly, these neighborhoods are in low-income and minority ZIP codes on Long Island. But they also include well-off areas where census forms may not be returned because they are mailed to second homes.

Because the census affects how much state and federal money flows to local communities, officials want an accurate count. "And the people that are hardest to count are the people that money is used to serve," Nassau County Executive Tho-mas Suozzi told about 100 nonprofit agency officials last week.

In central Nassau, swaths of Hempstead, Freeport, Uniondale and Roosevelt are ranked as "hard to count." Suffolk communities include Brentwood, Central Islip and Bay Shore.

Those places, among others, emerged on maps developed by City University of New York researchers who analyzed 2000 census data. Communities were tagged as "hard to count" with a scoring system based on many factors, including:

Large numbers of immigrants, some of whom may not speak English well or at all;

Pockets of poverty, where some residents may move frequently, or be homeless;

Many renters, who are a more transient population that may not receive the census form;

High concentrations of minorities, who may be reflected in all those categories. In addition, some minorities may live in illegal housing, may be distrustful of government or disengaged from the civic process, said Tony Farthing, director of the New York Regional Census Office.

The "hard to count" maps were developed by the Center for Urban Research at the CUNY Graduate Center. The Port Washington-based Hagedorn Foundation commissioned the maps to help nonprofit groups target census outreach efforts.

Experts said the Island's diversity requires a nuanced approach.

"It's not the same Long Island you used to think of," said Farthing, who is embarking on his third census. "There are cities that have completely changed . . . The language and culture are totally different. So you can't approach the census the way you might have done decades back."

Local officials agree.

Freeport Village plans to establish a task force "that will seek to get all of our people counted, in particular our undocumented," said Douglas Thomas, special counsel to Mayor Andrew Hardwick.

"We're going to be working with . . . all of those organizations that will help us go into the community, and hope we get those people to answer the [census] questions so they will be counted," said Hempstead Village Mayor Wayne Hall.

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