Glenna Mackie, 30, wants everyone to know homeless people are not derelicts.

They're not dirty or grungy; they're "just people." So clutching 20-month-old Alicia and 6-month-old Brittney, she faced reporters to answer questions about S-Night, the first large-scale attempt by a government agency to count the homeless nationwide."Well, some of the questions are kind of snoopy," she said. "But there's nothing really bad about it. I figure if people know more about the homeless, maybe there'll be more help."

S-Night - Street and Shelter Night - is an attempt by the U.S. Census Bureau to count the homeless across the nation. From 6 p.m. to midnight Tuesday, enumerators - many of them homeless themselves - visited shelters to ask clients to fill out an Individual Census Report.

The form asks for name, sex, race, age, marital status and whether the respondent is of Hispanic origin. Every sixth respondent is given a long form that asks for more detail: citizenship, schooling, ancestry, residence five years ago, military service, disability that interferes with work, transportation, work history and more. Everyone gets a privacy act notice that says information is confidential and personal data will be sealed for 72 years.

Things went smoothly at the shelters, thanks in part to "homeless providers and advocacy groups who worked so well with us . . . (They seemed) appreciative of being included in the process," said Deon Gillespie, regional media coordinator. "I think they were anticipating it. We asked people to see the Census as an opportunity and a privilege, not as a burden."

During Phase 2 - between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. Wednesday - enumerators, in pairs, talked to people on the streets where the homeless are known to congregate. In the third phase - between 4 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. - 12 teams stood outside blood banks, in railroad yards and near abandoned buildings to catch the homeless who might have stayed there. A team even went down the Jordan River in a boat to count people sleeping near the river bank. Several teams had cellular phones in case of problems.

"I personally didn't have any refusals," said Tallie Caveness, spokesman for S-Night enumerators. "We anticipated some problems but didn't have any. Because of how we were trained, we didn't antagonize any of them and they weren't afraid of us."

A few homeless people did refuse. In that case, enumerators were instructed to note gender and estimate age. Those on the streets were told to do the same if someone was asleep - not to wake anyone. Those are marked as visual estimates so they won't be confused with forms filled out by a homeless person.

The streets of Salt Lake City appeared strangely quiet in the early morning. Reporters who drove past Pioneer Park and other sites where the homeless are known to camp didn't see anyone, with the exception of a lone man walking along with his sleeping bag tied to his back. The bureau reported they "did find some on the streets, but not many. We expect more in the third phase."

Advocates for the poor have criticized S-Night for what they say will be an undercount, claiming it will hurt social programs because a low count could be used to justify inadequate program funding.

Homeless people interviewed just took the unusual count in stride. Ray Shawn Smith, 25, who grew up in a tough section of Los Angeles and is "proud I lived through it," said the census will do at least one thing. "Even if it's undercounted, it will show people there are many, many more homeless than they think. . . . Some are homeless by choice, some by circumstances. But all can help themselves if given a little time and help. We all had family, schooling, those things in our lives. But something went wrong. It's a short step into the gutter."

Roger Parker, staying at the Salt Lake Rescue Mission, described the census as "a little boring." He did the long form and complained that it asked about income and jobs, but not about the cost of hospital bills or clothing. "It doesn't ask the questions that should be answered if you want to help people."

Parker, Smith and Elaine, a resident at the women's shelter, agreed that "There's no way to count the homeless in one night." But Parker said an undercount won't be enumerators' fault. People who don't want to be found won't be. "I know the streets," he said. "There are some places if I walked in I would carry a knife, a gun and a club. You can't ask them to go some places unless you take someone to make sure they come back out again."

Before the count, Caveness had no experience with people who are homeless. "I would see the people on the street. I though we were stepping into a hostile environment." Instead, he described the people as "kind, some gentle, most friendly. Every person I met was very cooperative."

Gillespie said the U.S. Census Bureau emphasizes that the homeless count is not definitive. It will only indicate the number of homeless. But it should provide information groups can assess to get a feeling for the issue.