|The field where the Bailey's Crossroads Community Shelter will be temporarily located. The Charleston Square community is the rear, and the Lincolnia Senior Center is to the right.|
Many residents, however, at the well-attended and at times raucous meeting at Peace Lutheran Church on Lincolnia Road, remain unconvinced. Concerns were raised about crime, safety, property values, and why the Bailey’s Crossroads Community Shelter needs to be relocated.
|Stonegate at Landmark|
County officials announced on March 29 that the shelter would be temporarily moved to a “pre-manufactured” modular structure on a field behind the Lincolnia Senior Center at 4710 N. Chambliss St., Alexandria. That did not sit well with residents of two nearby townhouse communities – Stonegate at Landmark and Charleston Square – who launched a “Stop the Shelter” campaign.
Mason Supervisor Penny Gross defended the shelter relocation plan, saying homeless shelters are a key part of the county’s 10-year plan to end homelessness adopted in 2008. “We all need a place for comfort and safety, a place to call home,” she told the crowd of about 175 at the April 11 meeting.
“We have to try to make the best decisions we can to accommodate the needs of our community,” Gross said. “This was the location that worked the best as a temporary location.”
The county had looked at about 20 other sites over the past few months, said Rob Stalzer, deputy county executive for planning and development. “None are perfect, including this one. No one is going to volunteer to have a homeless shelter next door. We understand that.”
The county’s criteria include proximity to transit and other county services and accessibility to employment, Stalzer said.
Gross said staff will pull together a Q&A document based on the questions and comments at the meeting and will post it online before the Mason District Land Use Committee (MDLUC) discusses the shelter at its April 26 meeting.
The 6,000-square foot building will provide overnight accommodations for 50 people – 36 men and 14 women. If approved by the BoS, construction would start next fall and the shelter would open in spring 2017.
Like the existing Bailey’s shelter, the temporary facility would provide case management to clients with the ultimate goal of finding permanent housing and helping them become self-sufficient, said Dean Klein, director of the county’s Office to Prevent and End Homelessness.
Shelter staff help clients access employment services, healthcare, and other services, Klein said. A significant number are over age 50, and many have substance abuse issues, mental health needs, or both. The average stay in the shelter is 47 days.
Clients are required to leave the shelter by 9:30 a.m. every day and can return at 4:30 p.m., he said. During the day, they are supposed to search for jobs, go to medical appointments, or take workforce training classes. The curfew is 9:30 p.m. on weekdays and 10 on weekends.
According to Klein, an advisory committee will be created with community leaders and stakeholders.
Residents raised lots of concerns about safety, including children walking to school bus stops and playing outside; homeless people begging on the streets, congregating around the shelter, and trespassing in their neighborhood; pedestrian accidents as homeless people walk to the Plaza at Landmark shopping center; and the proximity of Total Wine.
County officials outlined some of the security features for the shelter: a fence around the building, controlled access via a card reader, a landscape buffer, security cameras, staff patrols of the perimeter every 30 minutes, and the use of breathalyzers to screen clients.
The county has authorized an independent security assessment, Stalzer said, and the results will be available before the MDLUC meeting.
In response to fears about crime, Capt. Christian Quinn, commander of the Mason Police District, acknowledged, “the existing shelter does have crime. I’m not going to sugarcoat that for you.” Most crimes are fights or assaults, with alcohol as the underlying issue, he said.
Noting that drug addicts and people with mental health issues will be hanging around people’s homes, a resident of Stonegate said, “your plans for security are around the facility, not my house. I cannot defend myself. How are you going to help me?”
Quinn promised to have regular patrols in the area and shift personnel around but there are no plans for more officers. The fence will be a physical barrier, so the homeless won’t be trespassing through the neighborhood, he said.
If a homeless person shows up at the shelter drunk, “we do not discharge them into the community,” said a representative of Northern Virginia Family Services, the nonprofit organization that operates the Bailey’s shelter. The police are called, and the person is allowed to stay on a sofa overnight.
Several people complained about the wisdom of locating a homeless shelter in the backyard of a senior facility that serves a vulnerable population. One resident worried about homeless people loitering – or even getting inside – the senior center during the day. The Lincolnia senior complex has a day center, classes and social activities, assisted living units, and independent living units.
The meeting facilitator, Elsa Lueck of the Department of Neighborhood and Community Services, the agency that oversees senior centers, said, “we will work on site there to best ensure program integrity and safety of clients at the senior center.”
The doors are unlocked at the senior center, someone else said. “They will have to be on lock down. Seniors won’t be able to sit in the sun on a spring day.” Another resident said the seniors, as well as the community, use the field for outdoor recreation. “It sounds like you have good security for people coming into the shelter, but the inebriated will be outside.”
A permanent site
The shelter would remain in Lincolnia for four to five years. By spring 2021, “the temporary structures will be removed, and the field will be returned to its existing condition,” said Joan Beacham of the Department of Public Works and Environmental Services.
Noting how difficult it was at find a temporary site, a resident expressed doubts that the county will be able to find a permanent location.
“We are aggressively looking for a permanent site for the shelter,” Klein said. “We recognize how challenging that is.” The Lincolnia site is not large enough to be a permanent solution, Stalzer added, “so we know going in this can only be a temporary site.”
|The Lincolnia Senior Center|
“This is not an issue about whether or not to serve the homeless,” said Chad Weinberg, a member of the Stonegate HOA board. “This is about inappropriate land use. This shelter does not belong in this location.”
Another Stonegate resident complained about the lack of transparency, noting residents weren’t informed early on. “You’re asking us to trust all of you. What about the care and thought about our families and our homes?”
Gross said her office notified community and HOA leaders by email. “I realize it’s not as much as you would have liked; I don’t have everyone’s emails,” she said. “You don’t seem to have problems giving us notification about taxes,” someone else complained.
A resident of Lincolnia Hills questioned why the Bailey’s shelter has to move. Stalzer spoke about the opportunity for redevelopment in Bailey’s Crossroads.
Several people urged the county to back out of the land swap deal until it finds a permanent site for the shelter. “Could the Bailey’s shelter continue to operate if the land swap is not approved?” a resident asked.
“Yes,” said Gross, “and the entire quadrant along that part of Bailey’s Cross would remain undeveloped and crappy.”
Someone else asked, “why not put the shelter in McLean, Centreville, or Fairfax Station? Mason gets a disproportionate share of special needs facilities. It’s not fair to dump it all on Mason District.”
“We are committed to having the homeless shelter in Mason District,” Gross responded. “We are not moving this to Great Falls. The shelter needs to remain in Mason District because that is where the population is.”
Fairfax County is abandoning the homeless, charged Stonegate resident Mark Fraser. By relocating the Bailey’s shelter, “you are creating a permanent underclass wandering from place to place. This is compete disgrace.”
Several people who spoke at the meeting said they understand the needs of the community to help the homeless and had volunteered at the shelter.
Pastor Sarah Scherschligt of Peace Lutheran Church urged compassion. “Our values are to respond to the needs of our neighbors, including the homeless,” she said. “We believe all people are loved and worthy of love.”
Noting that a lot of the questions indicate “homeless people are thieves and murderers,” Rev. Kathleen Moore of First Christian Church in Seven Corners, said, “I hope and pray people can be a little open minded. People don’t want to be homeless and are not horrible people. They are human beings.”
Moore’s church operates a day shelter that serves meals to the homeless and had offered its property as a temporary site for the shelter, but that deal fell through and also had been opposed by local residents.
“Everyone is doing our best here. No one wants a homeless shelter next door and no one wants homelessness and poverty,” a resident said. “Some assumptions being made we need to tear apart.”
In response to the many people who spoke about their compassion for the homeless before describing their concerns, Gross said, “you care about the homeless as long as they’re not in your backyard.”
Thanks to Jon Clark for recording the meeting.