Newswise — To make sure historically undercounted populations along the Texas-Mexico border are included in the 2020 census, faculty at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) are joining forces with the U.S. Census Bureau, community health workers, and local organizations to launch a collaborative campaign in the El Paso region.

The initiative was unveiled Tuesday in a press conference at UTHealth School of Public Health in El Paso announcing the university has received a grant from the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health to support complete count efforts in Texas. Every 10 years, as mandated by the Constitution, the Census Bureau conducts a count of the population within the United States and its five territories.

Those defined as hard-to-count are individuals not typically captured by census data, such as children under the age of 5, highly mobile people, racial and ethnic minorities, non-English speakers, low-income individuals, persons experiencing homelessness, undocumented immigrants, and people with mental health conditions.

The grant will help support participation in communities in El Paso and Hudspeth counties along the U.S. and Mexico border, which have some of the most underserved communities in the state. The numbers collected help determine how hundreds of billions of dollars are spent every year on public services such as hospitals and health clinics, emergency response, schools and education programs, and roads and highways. These statistics also determine political representation in Congress.

“The outreach will be driven by community health workers, who are trusted members within these hard-to-count populations,” said Louis Brown, PhD, an associate professor at UTHealth School of Public Health in El Paso. “Our efforts will focus on educating and communicating the importance of the census, and ensuring we count everyone.”

UTHealth is one of 27 Texas organizations to receive a grant from the Hogg Foundation to support census participation. As part of the Texas Communities Count initiative, UTHealth will work with local and regional organizations including El Paso Coalition for the Homeless, Project Vida Health Center, Paso Del Norte Health Foundation, the city of Socorro, Texas, and the Rio Grande Council of Governments to ensure an accurate and complete census.

Many of the hard-to-count populations live in health professional shortage areas in Texas, so an accurate count is crucial to closing the gap of what health care is available to support the well-being and mental health of those living in these communities.

“This initiative has something for everyone who cares about well-being in our state,” said Octavio N. Martinez, Jr., MD, executive director of the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health. “It promotes civic engagement and renewal, it is part of a larger effort to ensure that Texans get the resources and political representation to which they’re entitled, and by focusing on hard-to-count areas it addresses historic patterns of discrimination and inequity.”

“We are very concerned that hard-to-count populations in the El Paso region will be overlooked in the 2020 census. We are thrilled that these grant funds from the Hogg Foundation will help us connect with and mobilize people in these communities to ensure they are counted,” said Kristina Mena, PhD, regional dean at UTHealth School of Public Health in El Paso. “We will encourage census participation through outreach with our community partners, including churches, food pantries, and public schools.”

The Texas Communities Count initiative grew out of the Hogg Foundation recognition that without a complete count during the 2020 census, the state will face unprecedented challenges by losing both resources and representation for at least a decade.