Data collection is difficult. Accurately counting homeless people.

To count the unhoused and unsheltered population—the shelters are usually full to bursting with waitlists hundreds or a thousand names long—county health or human services agencies, or nonprofits to which the task is contracted out, often resort to the simplest method of enumeration known, the one you learn in kindergarten: They (or citizen volunteers, mostly) go out with flashlights, clipboards and pencils, and literally count heads, or curled-up street sleepers, or RVs, or tents.

How many people an office manager or sales rep guesses are sleeping in an RV or a tent they’re peering at in the semi-dark becomes data. Whether the volunteer presumes two or four is up to them—I can tell you this, for I have done it twice, in 2009 and 2017, and I don’t believe my guessing skills improved much—and thus wholly arbitrary, a snap decision that can result in a variance of 100 percent. Or more. Is that just some old car, or an old car someone lives in? Is that RV the glamping vehicle for an Instagram influencer or some eccentric Burner type, or does it house the family of four who couldn’t afford the landlord’s latest offer? You don’t know and you can’t know. Yet, this is the data the federal government uses, and we arrive at neat numbers like, “500,000 homeless people in America, 8,011 homeless people in San Francisco.”

How California’s Homeless Crisis Grew Obscenely Out of Control, Chris Roberts, Observer.com

Supercommuter

FOUR DAYS A week Andy Ross travels—by car, train, and bus—120 miles from his home in Auburn, California, to his job at a bank in San Francisco. His eight-hour round-trip typically begins at 6 a.m. He’ll be at his desk by 10, having begun work earlier on his laptop. He leaves the office by 4 p.m. and arrives home about 8.

Ross became a “supercommuter” eight years ago, after he left a tech business and took the bank job. He joined nearly 105,000 people who spend at least 90 minutes getting to jobs in the Bay Area. Ross and his wife kept their four-bedroom home in Auburn rather than move to San Francisco, where the median price is $1.4 million—more than three times that in Auburn. “I love working at my job. As a result, I’m now doing this crazy commute,” he says. “There are a lot more of us long-haul commuters” than a decade ago.

National Geographic April 2019 edition