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Monday, July 28, 2014

Fairfax County supervisors to consider proposal to expand women's shelter



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.

29 comments:

  1. The arguments cited against the expansion explain exactly why this is so needed. And keeping families in dangerous situations doesn't keep the violence from spreading. There are all too many stories of domestic violence spreading beyond the walls of a home, as a society we must provide safe places wherever possible.

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    1. If you follow the arguments closely it quickly becomes apparent that 90% of the supporters were brought in by Bethany House from outside the neighborhood. The 3 people, over 2 hearings, from the neighborhood that are in favor don't actually live close enough to experience the shelter clients behavior on a daily basis.
      Nobody that spoke against the expansion opposes the Bethany house mission, only the expansion of an organization that needs to improve their operations and neighbor relations prior do doubling their size. At the public hearing (channel 16 broadcasts) 2 speakers "against" the project, specifically stated that they put up with the prior inconveniences because they knew it was a shelter, and supported the cause.
      Put yourself in the neighbors' shoes for a minute. A corporation (yes Bethany house in incorporated), directly connected to domestic violence, chooses to do business in your neighborhood and establishes a pattern of poor neighbor relations. Then suddenly, and without talking to any immediate neighbors, (actual transcripts point toward willfully avoiding immediate neighbors) applies to double it's size. Would you really welcome that with open arm?

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    2. If I hadn't raised complaints prior to them expanding then shame on me for not bringing these problems to their attention. If you have a problem w/something you need to say something so it can be resolved...don't come crying about problems that happened years ago only because now the shelter is upgrading it's facilities.

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  2. I agree with the article and with the person who commented above.

    I would like to reinforce something stated by the Exec. Director, "the shelter ....existed for 20 years and no one knew about it". Why is the expansion suddenly a problem now that neighbors know about it? If residents in this community have lived peacefully for several years without knowing, an expansion to the existing home shouldn't cause an uproar.

    There are also other nonprofit organizations with similar models. Individuals and families are placed in group homes or transitional housing with several other families and individuals. The communities in which these other organizations exist are supportive. Their focus is on helping people improve their lives and move toward stability.

    Safety and security are a top priority for the women and children of Bethany House Shelter. "Outing" the shelter serves no good purpose; it only hurts.

    According to the web site, "Bethany House was organized to help women and their children who have suffered from domestic violence regain health and dignity and become re-established in their community by providing temporary housing and support."

    Safety and security are a critical part of the work Bethany House does for abused women and children. Compassion, empathy and understanding are necessary components for neighbors and supporters.

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  3. The author of this article should check the facts prior to writing.
    The shelter is doubling in size from 8 to 15 plus 1 staff. The neighbors that live closest have always known about it and dealt with the problems on their own. Prior attempts to contact the shelter to address issues went unanswered.
    Throughout the special exception process, Bethany House has avoided every chance to engage the neighborhood in a meaningful conversation.
    The initial land use meetings in the neighborhood were not attended by any of the neighbors because Bethany house sent 2 letters, but only 1 to a resident in the neighborhood. At the public hearing they said they used the list provided by the local Supervisors office. When I contacted the local Supervisors office I was given 5 names, all in the neighborhood.
    10 days prior to the public hearing I requested to talk to a neighbor or 2 that lives near a similar sized Bethany House Shelter. The request was made in person, by email, and twice by phone. All contact was ignored by Executive Director Catherine Hassinger.
    At the public hearing Bethany House was directed to hold a meeting and do community outreach. When I asked who they contacted, they said only the people at the public hearing that provided contact information. Again, they avoided a chance to do real community outreach.
    The Bethany house chose to "out" themselves by engaging in this public process, without having the courtesy to talk to the neighbors it would impact. They stated at the public hearing they could have purchased a property in Arlington, that would have served 4 families. They could have done that without a public hearing. Instead they chose to expand the current location, requiring a special permit, and public hearing, to serve only 3 additional families. They mentioned staffing as the reason, but they also mentioned they used to run 5 properties, now they only run 2.
    At the public hearing there were approximately 7 speakers from the neighborhood. 6 knew shelter existed and opposed the expansion. 1 in favor did not know the shelter existed, lives as far away as possible on the street, and has never directly interacted with the shelter or it's occupants.
    The neighbors of the Bethany House Shelter are opposing this expansion throughout this permit process to preserve the safety and character of their neighborhood, and the value of most likely their single largest investment. Unlike the private residents of the neighborhood, Bethany House engages in fund raising and gets grant money that can choose to quietly purchase a house and expand their mission. Unfortunately, they have chosen to engage in a public process and attempt to bully the neighbors into accepting their expansion.
    While I support the mission of the Bethany House, they are not a good neighbor, and their expansion will not be welcome until they take the time to develop a history of being a good neighbor. If they truly believed they had a "Duty to take care of our neighbors" they would withdraw the permit application, implement their proposed changes, establish a track record of being a good neighbor, and then engage the neighborhood about expanding. Asking an organization that conducts business in our neighborhood to be responsible and considerate of the neighbors is not out of line.

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    1. If neighbors never raised concerns, they would not know there was ever an issue. You can go to their website to contact them. You can contact Penny Gross's office to complain. You can contact the police. How many of these complaints were logged in the 20 years Bethany House was in operation in the neighborhood, virtually NONE!

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  4. Hello Ellie -

    Your Blog article re: the Bethany House Expansion was brought to my attention late this afternoon and I am astounded that you didn't take the time to interview more neighbors or check Public Records before writing and publishing your article.

    Please find attached a few sample submissions detailing reasons that the Bethany House has not set a precedence for being a good steward for their mission, nor have they been forthright, honest or trustworthy neighbors.

    Their "anonymous mission" been a guise they have hidden behind to ignore neighborhood complaints and requests for corrective action by those neighbors who have lived near them the longest and are most closely affected.

    Additionally, they have engaged in bullying actions against neighbors who have voiced their opinions by sending anonymous letters to those who have posted signs that are perfectly legal, giving the impression that voicing opinions in this country is now illegal. Please feel free to verify zoning regulations, as the anonymous author clearly did not.

    Please find attached 3 letters that were submitted and recorded as Public Record for both the Planning Board and Board of Supervisors meetings held on this topic, along with the bullying letter sent. All transcripts, as well as the video, from the Planning Board Hearing are available at the Fairfax County website. Did you investigate that testimony?

    A complete reporting of neighborhood opinion and fact would in the future be much appreciated by the residents of this community.

    You have my permission to print all portions, in complete version only, of this correspondence, including attachments, if you'd like to rectify your Blog.

    Regards,

    Bethany Sutherland Jones


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  5. 15 unrelated adults in a quiet, single-family neighborhood house is too many. The residents of this community have already exhibited a level of tolerance which should not be abused.

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    1. Tolerance? Posting yard signs to publicize the presence of a shelter for women and children fleeing domestic violence is tolerant? I'd hate to see "intolerant"--does it include torches and/or pitchforks?

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    2. The organization chose a public hearing process to expand. It was not the neighbors choice to take the discussion public, however it is their first amendment right to continue it in public.

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    3. I call BS. There's a difference between matters being of public record (which the Bethany House address likely is and has been) and putting out signs that point out its presence, given that its residents are seeking shelter from violence.

      You are correct, the first amendment does allow the signs to be placed. And it protects my right to say that I think those doing so are culpable if something happens to a resident.

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    4. 15 is the max occupancy number and includes the staff member who lives in the residence and children of the women seeking shelter. The max total number of adults would be 8 (staff member included). The shelter is not always at full capacity, as the number living there varies based on family size.

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  6. Am I inferring correctly that the Bethany House location has been unlisted, but that the neighborhood has posted signs that announce its presence?

    If that's the case, I'm appalled. The people Bethany House serves have real problems that have caused them to leave home and seek safety. Publicizing the location would put these women and children in danger, and anyone using those tactics has given up all decency.

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    1. It would not be wise to tick off the neighbors. This proposal may seriously strain an already fragile situation, and what should be a calm and settled situation for the residents of Bethany House may not remain that way. There obviously needs to be more discussion about this.

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    2. What really puts the clients in danger are the ones that walk to the next block, out of eyesight of the shelter, so their "abusers" can pick them up and give them a ride.

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    3. 12:27, that may be the case. Sadly, victims of domestic abuse aren't always able to break ties with their abusers. But that hardly gives OTHERS permission to do things that might endanger them and the other clients who don't act in this manner.

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    4. I'm assuming there are house rules or court orders regarding such contact.

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    5. I would assume so as well, but since Bethany house chose not to communicate with the neighbors all we know is it happens. So either they don't have a rule, or they have one they don't/can't enforce. Either option doesn't bode well for those living closest.

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  7. How about a shelter for white people?

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    1. Many women and kids that go through Bethany House are white

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  8. My goodness.occupants.
    "The neighbors of the Bethany House Shelter are opposing this expansion throughout this permit process to preserve the safety and character of their neighborhood, and the value of most likely their single largest investment"

    Oh my. battered women flee for their lives. But your house might lose some its value.

    Maybe it would be better for our communities if we had more renters? Then we could welcome those in need. Our charity to those in desperate circumstances would not be conditional on its impact on our "most important asset".


    "While I support the mission of the Bethany House, they are not a good neighbor, and their expansion will not be welcome until they take the time to develop a history of being a good neighbor. If they truly believed they had a "Duty to take care of our neighbors" they would withdraw the permit application,"

    Obviously the duty to neighbors they meant was to their neighbors who need safe shelter, not to their homeowner neighbors worried about their equity.

    If duty to neighbors means the latter, I think I have been reading the bible all wrong.

    I am so glad I will soon be putting Fairfax in the rear view mirror. You people are unreal.

    . Unlike the private residents of the neighborhood, Bethany House engages in fund raising and gets grant money that can choose to quietly purchase a house and expand their mission. Unfortunately, they have chosen to engage in a public process and attempt to bully the neighbors into accepting their expansion.
    While I support the mission of the Bethany House, they are not a good neighbor, and their expansion will not be welcome until they take the time to develop a history of being a good neighbor. If they truly believed they had a "Duty to take care of our neighbors" they would withdraw the permit application,

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    1. “Oh my. battered women flee for their lives. But your house might lose some its value.”

      “I am so glad I will soon be putting Fairfax in the rear view mirror. You people are unreal.”

      Those of us who call this home are so glad you’re leaving.

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  9. Why did you publish a picture of the house?

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  10. It was irresponsible and reprehensible of you to post it.

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    1. So you have never made a mistake caused by poor judgment?

      You sound like an intolerant, judging, person no one would want to be around.

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    2. Because Bethany house chose to expand through a public hearing process, instead of buying another property, you can find a picture of the house and their address, and a drawing of what it will look like after the expansion on the internet with very little effort. Ellie did nothing to expose the house compared to the organization itself.

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    3. I can't imagine a special exception hearing, such as its Executive Director herself requested, that would not expose Bethany House to public scrutiny and exposure many times greater than a single blog posting would. The special hearing will have pictures for certain and locations etc and will be aired live and available for viewing on Channel 16. So just who erred here.

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    4. The public hearing process is the ONLY way to move forward with the expansion. The hearing was for zoning purposes and would have had to be done at any potential site as well, creating the same results.

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