Putting a shelter and housing under one roof has Fairfax County joining a budding movement to revise how homeless facilities are structured. The new look for the Bailey’s Crossroads Shelter and Supportive Housing brings promise for the county’s mission to end homelessness, which also means heightened expectations on the shelter’s staff to deliver in that goal.
“The old building was depressing, with its low ceilings and poor lighting,” Pam Michell, executive director for New Hope Housing, the shelter’s operator, said. “After we opened, one of the clients said ‘Oh my God, this place is so happy. I can do something more now, I’ll feel more inspired.’ The building itself just says something different when you walk in.”
Located on Seminary Road, just up the street from its original home on Moncure Avenue, the new shelter sports 48 beds divided between hallways for men and women. The configuration of the shelter puts a more intimate spin on the traditional dorm style that was found at the old Bailey’s Crossroads Community Shelter — clients stay in rooms of six with their own bathroom, as opposed to a barracks-style hall where 30 or so people would sleep.
Four medical respite beds are also a part of the shelter, which serve clients who may have been discharged from the hospital and require additional care, and doubles the county’s current overall count. Additionally, the cellar, or basement area of the building, has the capacity to become an overflow shelter during the colder winter months.
The inclusion of 18 supportive housing units that serve as a permanent residence is the facility’s most innovative feature. Taking cues from areas such as Virginia Beach who’ve incorporated both housing and a shelter into one building, rooms are intended for those who are chronically homeless or suffer from a mental condition. Tenants sign a lease and are expected to pay 30 percent of their monthly rent in order to occupy the living spaces, each outfitted with its own bathroom and is big enough to host guests.
New Hope Housing is working with the county to fill the beds from mid-December to mid-January. According to Michell, 14 of the 18 rooms have been filled by tenants. And while optimistic about what the new facility offers, she is worried over one area of tension that could arise.
“The challenge is: how do you run two separate programs? Because people who’ve been homeless and finally got the golden thing of a home don’t necessarily want to be hooked to the shelter,” Michell said. “There’s advantages to co-location because of staffing, but how do you keep the programs separate [while] taking advantage of the fact that they’re together?”
For example, the lack of separate entrances for the housing facility and shelter concerns Michell. But she also notes that the benefits of having the programs offered at the facility makes it hard to criticize it too harshly.
Outside of helping shelter clients meet their basic health needs, the other main area of focus is job assistance training. Those who come to the shelter often don’t recognize their marketable skills that could help them get a job, and more so, how they could encapsulate that experience on a resume.
Michell remembers one client who had cared for her terminally ill mother for two years. After the mother died, she had to stay at the shelter since she had no source of income. The staff helped this woman realize that her time helping her mother could qualify for her to work as a home health aide — something she didn’t even consider.
Job training is supplemented by other programs which are focused on overall wellness. Knitting and yoga classes from volunteers are done along with guitar classes with a teacher from a nearby music store. The increased space gives clients the chance to diversify their activities. More programs are expected to pop up as volunteers get accustomed to the new space.
The shelter’s completion comes at a critical time for Fairfax County’s homeless population.
After a decade long run where the overall number of people experiencing homelessness had decreased from 1,835 (2008) to 964 (2017), according to the county’s point-in-time counter, the population has crept back up the past two years to 1,034.
Dean Klein, director of Fairfax County’s office to prevent and end homelessness, notes that with more clients coming to Bailey’s there will be a greater onus on the staff to maintain its standards of care. And the staff will need to aid those clients while achieving the county’s benchmark for success of housing someone within three to six months after they arrive at the shelter.
“It’s very clear what our expectations are and it’s very clear that the new facility offers new opportunities for success,” Klein said. “But the quality and the outcomes that need to happen should be in line with the condition of the individuals being served.”
But efforts to combat homelessness don’t fall on the shelter staff alone.
Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross sees that the community has a role in making more people eligible to receive services at the facility. That could be, as Gross suggested, in the form of Diversion First, the county’s program that provides alternatives to jail time for those with mental or developmental disabilities. Point being, it’s on those who come to the shelter to meet the facility’s requirements before they can get on the right track.
“We have people who may qualify for the homeless shelters off-site, but won’t qualify to come in because they won’t give up alcohol or drugs,” Gross said “We need to do an outreach or inreach to folks because what I’m seeing right now is that some people tend hang outside the facility and give a bad name for the shelter. I don’t want to do that with this new shelter.”