|A yard sign broadcasts the resident's opposition to a shelter for abuse victims.|
A proposal to expand a shelter for victims of domestic abuse in the Barcroft Hills neighborhood has generated some opposition among the immediate neighbors, although others who live near the 1950s-era house support the project.
Bethany House of Northern Virginia is requesting approval to expand a congregate living facility it already operates by adding a second story, allowing the shelter to serve another two or three more women. At most, the 1,356-square foot addition would have living space for up to 15 residents and one full-time staff member. The Fairfax County Planning Commission recommended approval last week, and the proposal is on the Board of Supervisors’ agenda for July 29.
About half a dozen homes on the street next to the shelter have signs on their front lawns stating “Say No to Bethany House Shelter.” The opposition is primarily based on safety issues, including the fear that angry and potentially violent husbands or boyfriends of shelter residents might show up in the neighborhood.
It’s for that reason that Bethany House doesn’t want anyone to publish the address of the shelter. The organization is extremely careful about protecting its clients as it helps them rebuild their lives.
Several neighbors, however, support the shelter. One resident said he believes in the value of providing a safe haven for women and children who need help.
“We have a duty to take care of our neighbors,” says Bethany House Executive Director Catherine Hassinger. “All of us will need help at some point in our lives. Providing a welcome refuge to victims of violence is a great step forward in creating a community that recognizes how interdependent we are. The women and children we serve are resilient, strong, and determined. They have all endured situations that should never be thrust on any human being, and they have survived.”
Like other Bethany House shelters throughout Northern Virginia, this one provides “a temporary sanctuary where women can regain their bearings after suffering violence and pick up the pieces to move ahead with their children into new abuse-free homes,” Hassinger says. “We’re trying to preserve the humanity and dignity of our clients, as well as their safety.”
The fact that the shelter in question has existed for 20 years and “no one knew about it” shows that it hasn’t been a problem, she says.
While Fairfax County has made a lot of progress in reducing homelessness in the past few years, the one area where it has not been successful is with women who’ve been victims of domestic violence, she says. The number of people citing domestic violence as the cause of homelessness in the county actually increased from 261 in 2008 to 335 in 2012 before declining to 229 in 2014.