With cold weather on the way, Fairfax County is making an effort to protect the homeless from hypothermia this winter, said Dean Klein, director of the county’s Office to Prevent and End Homelessness, at an online chat session this afternoon.
In addition to the winter capacity available at the county’s year-round homeless shelters, there are several volunteer-supported hypothermia prevention efforts underway throughout the winter. Last year, the county’s hypothermia program served more than 900 people, he said.
In our area, Volunteers of America (VOA), a nonprofit organization that operates Fairfax County’s Bailey’s Crossroads Community Shelter, is coordinating support from nearby faith communities who offer overnight shelter from Dec. 1, 2010-March 31, 2011. Members of faith communities prepare, deliver, and serve dinner to shelter guests at the Bailey’s site, then VOA transports men to a sheltering site at a nearby faith community, and the women to another.
According to the county’s 2010 “point-in-time count” of homeless people, there were 1,544 people who were homeless in Fairfax County and Falls Church on Jan. 27, 2010, an 11 percent decrease from the year before.
Of that number, 652 were single individuals and 892 were in families. Approximately 60 percent of homeless single individuals had series mental illness and/or substance problems and many had chronic health problems and/or serious physical disabilities. Among homeless families, approximately 62 percent of adults were employed and 29 percent were victims of domestic violence.
If you see homeless people outside at night and think they might be at risk, Klein suggests calling the county’s non-emergency phone line, 703/691-2131. The Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board has mental health outreach workers who could help if needed with a particular client. You can access this support at 703/222-0880.
“Instead of building new shelters or expanding the existing ones, our community has adopted a new approach to ending homelessness called Housing First,” Klein said. “What makes this approach different from traditional emergency shelter is that people who are homeless are placed immediately into permanent housing—with regular support. This approach takes people as they are, in part because housing is a basic right.”
Klein said the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Partnership to Prevent and End Homelessness “was established to make sure that no later than Dec. 31, 2018, every person who is homeless or at risk of becoming homeless can access appropriate permanent housing and the services needed to keep them in their homes.”
“The county government is partnering with the community to ensure that services are coordinated, new housing opportunities are created, and that we measure our success and adapt our plan accordingly,” he said. “To reach the goal of ending homelessness will take a communitywide team of individual county residents, nonprofit organizations, businesses, faith-based communities, health care organizations, schools, and local government. Most important, we need help from individuals who are willing to help mentor and support those in need.”
Klein said the county spends about $500,000 a year on the hypothermia program. This number fluctuates from year to year based on the severity of the weather and the number of individuals served.
Last February’s severe snowstorms “provided a true test for the Hypothermia Prevention Program,” Klein said. During the 10-day period of back-to-back storms, the program served an average of 234 people each night who could not take advantage of regular shelters and winter programs because they were already full.