Fairfax County’s goal to Prevent and End Homelessness in the county by December 31, 2018, is a lofty one, involving lots of partners: county officials, non-profit organizations, staff, and volunteers. Working together, we are making gradual progress. Although the region’s homeless population increased by nearly 2 percent since the January 2010 count, Fairfax County’s numbers were stable and, in fact, decreased by more than 10 percent from the 2009 enumeration. The saddest news, perhaps, is that there were 71 families with children on the waiting list for family shelters in January’s count.
Mason District has been home to both a family shelter and a singles shelter for more many years. Shelter House in the Seven Corners area provides temporary apartment housing, casework management, and other services to help families find transitional housing and get back on the path to stability. Shelter House, Inc., under the extraordinary leadership of Executive Director Jewell Mikula, celebrated its 30th anniversary last week with a gala celebration/ fundraiser at the Gannett Atrium in Tysons Corner. Partners and volunteers honored with a Shelter House logo award included the Annandale Christian Community for Action, Balfour Beatty Construction, the Freddie Mac Foundation, HomeAid NoVA, and the Junior League of Northern Virginia. Congressman Gerry Connolly and the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors also received an award, along with former Fairfax County Board Chairman Kate Hanley and former Deputy County Executive Verdia Haywood. The homelessness goal was established when Gerry chaired the board; the county’s newer family shelter in Fairfax is named for Kate, and run by Shelter House. Many individual volunteers also received thank you awards.
The Bailey’s Crossroads Community Shelter in Bailey’s Crossroads was established in the 1980s, and serves approximately 36 men and 14 women in a dormitory setting. The shelter is owned by Fairfax County, and operated under a competitive contract by Volunteers of America Chesapeake. Shelter staff provides temporary housing, food, mental health and substance abuse counseling, and other social services as needed. A visit to the shelter reveals a bright and clean facility, appropriate rule and regulations, enthusiastic staff, and residents/clients who are very thankful to be there instead of on the streets. One young woman, originally a refugee from Africa, was well on her way to success in the health care field when an unexpected surgery resulted in loss of her job. Her dazzling smile hid a series of heartbreaks, but she expressed appreciation for her staff counselor’s help. An older couple is trying to get back on their feet despite health problems. Although the husband and wife cannot be together in the dormitories, they have meals together, and told me that Fairfax County’s care for homeless persons is much more helpful than in surrounding jurisdictions.
Fairfax County uses a Housing First model, providing short-term housing assistance where possible to prevent homelessness or to quickly secure housing. The challenge is to find permanent supportive housing for single individuals as well as families, while continuing to provide those services which will help people get back on their feet and succeed. It can be done, and it must be done, by the entire community.
The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ annual report about homelessness in the region is available on line at www.mwcog.org. Shelter House information is available at www.shelterhouse.org. Log on to www.voaches.org, and click on “Homeless Services” for the Bailey’s Crossroads Community Shelter.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org