Several elected officials stopped in Austin recently to encourage West Side residents to take part in the once-a-decade count of the U.S. population.
Traveling as part of the “Get Counted” bus tour, members of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus made a stop at MacArthur’s Restaurant, 5412 W. Madison St., to unveil a new partnership they hope will help hard-to-count areas such as Austin get an accurate count in next year’s U.S. census.
“For most of the time, people don’t put the two together that the census means that I’m being counted, and that it (increases) the amount of money we get from the federal government,” said state Rep. La Shawn Ford, who was accompanied on the day-long bus tour on Nov. 23 by Lt. Gov. Julianna Stratton, and two other state lawmakers who represent Austin in the Illinois General Assembly: Rep. Camille Lilly and Sen. Kimberly Lightford.
“We want people to be aware” and take part, Ford said.
The census counts every resident in the country. The data collected once a decade determines the number of seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives and is also used to distribute billions in federal funds to local communities.
The newly formed Counting on Chicago Coalition is using a $2.3 million grant from the state of Illinois to raise awareness and educate residents in Austin and 12 other hard-to-count neighborhoods. Other West Side neighborhoods being targeted include East Garfield Park, North Lawndale and West Garfield Park.
Comprised of 18 organizations, the coalition is led by Habilitative Systems Inc, a human services agency that provides health services and programs to underserved communities.
“We’re asking them to make a pledge to be counted and together we all are being counted,” said George “Modavador g” Salter, outreach director at Above and Beyond Family Recovery Center, an outpatient addiction treatment facility.
“This opportunity comes around once every 10 years, and when you are not counted … that’s taking away funds from the area where [people] do live and need services,” Salter said.
Before the event, Ford talked about the importance of counting individuals who are in prison, making sure they are being tallied in their original residency and not where they are incarcerated.
Ford is sponsor of House Bill 203, the No Representation Without Population Act, which would require the Illinois Department of Corrections to collect and record the legal residency of prisoners outside of the correctional facility in which they live.
About 47,000 inmates were counted in the wrong place in the 2000 census, Ford said.
Others like George N. Miller, president and CEO at Loretto Hospital, know getting an accurate census count is critical because it helps determine how much in resources a community receives in areas such as health.
“In downtown Chicago, life expectancy is 88 years of life, but here at exit 23B, the Austin exit, it drops down to 68.2 years of life,” Miller said. “So the more people registered (for the census) means (they) then get counted and we get more resources.”
Groups like the Chicago Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta sorority said they will do all they can, from attending community events to promoting the census on social media.
“We don’t want to lose any legislative seats because we didn’t get people out to make sure that they were counted,” said Terri Norman, vice president of Delta Sigma Theta. “We don’t have all the great ideas. We want to be there for other people that do, so just let us know what we can do to help.”