Last year's one-night effort to count America's most visible homeless population found 228,621 people living in emergency shelters or on the streets, the Census Bureau reported.

The most comprehensive effort ever undertaken to identify the homeless found that 178,828 people sought refuge in shelters on the night of last March 20 while 49,793 others were found on America's streets.However, the Census Bureau stressed Friday that the figure should not be considered a definitive accounting of the homeless population, which some advocates say could exceed 3 million. The government puts the figure under 300,000.

Census officials said the count reflected one night and only covered specific areas where homeless people are generally found. It also excluded those who live with families, in motels or halfway houses or those who may have been hospitalized, jailed or confined to mental institutions.

Dubbed "Street and Shelter Night," the $2.7 million effort employed 15,000 census takers who mostly scoured poor neighborhoods in urban areas to find those whose representation in decennial censuses has been largely ignored.

The counters visited 11,000 shelters and checked countless numbers of parks, subway and bus stations and steam grates. Census takers avoided some dangerous areas, officials said.

The count showed that 32,000 people were living in shelters in New York with another 10,000 on the streets. In California, 30,000 homeless people were found in shelters and another 18,000 on the streets.

There were more homeless people in Washington, D.C., than in many states as census takers found 4,600 people in shelters and 131 people on the streets of the nation's capital.

Wyoming had the fewest homeless people - 183 in shelters and 13 outdoors, according to the survey.