The Falls Church Homeless Shelter may now open this year on Nov. 15, a full two weeks before the usual Dec. 1 start date of the City’s only winter hypothermia shelter, when last year there were concerns that the site of the shelter may not even remain within the City.
On Monday, the F.C. City Council gave the OK for City Manager Wyatt Shields to sign a one-year agreement with the volunteer group Friends of the Falls Church Homeless Shelter to operate in the City-owned space at 217 Gordon Road this season from Nov. 15 – March 31 during its usual hours of 6 p.m. – 8 a.m. The agreement newly provides for the shelter to be open all day on Thanksgiving and Christmas, as well. The group has run a winter shelter at the Gordon Road facility for more than 15 years, and currently works with New Hope Housing, a Northern Virginia nonprofit which provides specialized services for homeless families and adults in the area, to provide case-management support and other services for its residents.
“Our purpose for being is to provide shelter and services for people who don’t have a home and lack other resources, so this will give us an opportunity to serve them for more weeks during the hypothermia season,” Hannah Jordan, chair of Friends of Falls Church Homeless Shelter, told the News-Press. Jordan said that shelter volunteers pursued the earlier open date because of recent cold Novembers, and to keep the City’s offerings in line with other area hypothermia programs.
This past winter, 37 homeless men and nine homeless women were given food, shelter and assistance at the facility. With a capacity of only 12 residents per night, the shelter turned away 45 people last season.
Last year, as the City was negotiating with Fairfax County on the sale of its water system to Fairfax Water, there were concerns the boundary adjustment that brought George Mason High School and Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School within City limits would result in the new boundary excluding the building housing the shelter from Falls Church. F.C. officials were able to arrange, however, for the site to remain with the City.
The Council took up the decision on the new agreement for the shelter toward the end of its meeting, combined with two other consent items; all items passed 5-0, with Mayor David Tarter and Council member Karen Oliver absent. But before the Council proceeded to its final items of business, Council member Phil Duncan highlighted the earlier start date and extended holiday open hours, which had been presented to and agreed upon by the Board of Zoning Appeals earlier this month.
“When we were doing the water sale, there was fair anxiety about what would happen with the shelter,” Duncan said. “It’s encouraging that in this first time through, not only have we retained it but we’ve expanded the services provided there.”