|Lincolnia residents who oppose a temporary homeless shelter in their neighborhood stage a protest in front of the Lincolnia Senior Center June 24. [Mark Fraser]|
Lincolnia residents who have been fighting a Fairfax County plan to move the Bailey’s Crossroads homeless shelter to a field behind the Lincolnia Senior Center achieved an interim victory June 28, as the Mason District Land Use Committee voted 5-3 against the proposal.
The MDLUC’s role is solely to determine whether a development proposal is “in substantial accord with the area’s Comprehensive Plan,” said committee chair Daniel Aminoff – not to consider whether the shelter should be relocated or whether a different site would be better.
Fairfax County’s proposal to relocate the shelter from Moncure Avenue in Bailey’s Crossroads to the backyard of the Lincolnia Senior Center is being done to facilitate a redevelopment project calling for AvalonBay to build apartments on the Moncure site. The shelter relocation is part of the Southeast Quadrant land swap approved by the Board of Supervisors.
Loss of green space
MDLUC member Stephen Smith, who voted against the proposal, expressed concerns about traffic at the Little River Turnpike/Beauregard Street intersection, density in the area, and the loss of green space.
“We’re gobbling up open space in this county. It’s ridiculous,” Smith said. “Where do you want kids to play?” The temporary shelter would take up 60 percent of a field that is used for recreation by patrons of the Lincolnia Senior Center and local residents, he said, leaving an open space that is just “three townhouses wide by one townhouse deep.”
“I strenuously think this is not the site for it,” Smith said. “Mason District is not Tysons Corner. We should not be looking to infill every single square foot.”
Committee member Barry Wilson, who also voted against the shelter relocation, said he was troubled by the speed at which the county is trying to get the application approved. “This thing has gone at the speed of heat,” he said. “What is driving such urgency?”
The Planning Commission is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the shelter relocation proposal on July 20. A staff report by the Department of Planning and Zoning recommends approval.
The MDLUC invited officials from the Fairfax County Police Department to clarify whether a homeless shelter would lead to higher crime in the Lincolnia area.
In the first quarter of the year, there were 21 “group A offenses” at the Bailey’s shelter, according to the FCPD. That includes 11 assaults, one forgery incident, two crimes involving damage of personal property, five drug offenses, and two larcenies.
It isn’t clear, however, whether those crimes were committed by shelter residents, whether homeless people were victims, or how that compares to the area where the shelter would be relocated.
Homeless people are more vulnerable to crime, although they are less likely to call the police, said Capt. Christian Quinn, commander of the Mason Police District. Seniors are also vulnerable to crimes, such as fraud, he said.
If the shelter is relocated to Lincolnia, Quinn said his officers would be particularly attentive to alcohol-related issues, as there have been lots of drunk-in-public incidents around the general area of the Bailey’s shelter.
“I don’t think a homeless shelter creates crime,” he said, although it does attract people who have been banned from the shelter for substance abuse or other problems and who know people staying there. “Are people being assaulted in the community? That’s not what we’re seeing,” he said. Criminal activity around the shelter has typically involved people at the shelter assaulting others at the shelter.
Another issue the MDLUC sought to clarify was a contention from community members that the senior center would be on 24-hour lockdown.
“There are no plans to lock down the facility,” said Elisa Lueck, regional manager at the county’s Department of Neighborhood and Community Services. Staff would have to swipe cards to get into the building and would collaborate with shelter staff to ensure security.
In a departure from previous county policy, residents of the temporary shelter will be allowed to stay in the facility in the middle of the day, said Tom Barnett of the Office to Prevent and End Homelessness. Rather than requiring them to leave so they can access county services, look for work, or go to medical appointments, the county will bring to the facility such services as life skills training, case management, mental health services, and housing counseling.
Strandlie responded to a claim from shelter opponents that the American Planning Association recommends as a “best practice” that a homeless shelter should be at least 2,500 feet from residences.That statement comes from an APA study that discusses an ordinance in Green Bay, Wis., she said; it is not a best practice recommendation.
Chris Caperton, chief of the facilities planning branch of the Department of Planning and Zoning, told the MDLUC the proposed shelter meets the criteria in the comprehensive plan and urged the committee to support it.
David Stinson, the project manager, noted the one-story, 5,922-square foot modular shelter would be surrounded by a chain-link fence and there would be transitional screening between the shelter and the Charleston Square neighborhood.
When he said the “there will be impacts on the community but they will not be adverse,” the audience responded with laughter.
The wrong location
About 20 community members spoke at the meeting, and most of them urged the MDLUC to oppose the temporary shelter.
Stonegate at Landmark resident Debbie Fraser, a founder of the “Stop the Shelter” campaign, said the 2232 application is flawed because it does not conform to the Lincolnia Comprehensive Plan, which calls for stable neighborhoods to be protected and says any new development should not have an adverse impact on the surrounding community.
Debbie Smith, chair of the Mason District Council, called it “wasteful and disruptive” to move the shelter to a temporary site rather than waiting until a permanent location is secured.
Another speaker complained that the shelter might end up being in Lincolnia on a permanent basis and asked how the other 21 other sites the county was considering were ruled out.
It is not the intent to make this site permanent; “we’re moving forward to find a permanent location,” said Tracy Strunk of the Office of Community Revitalization. The county won’t reveal the other sites it considered.
Among other comments from community members:
- The shelter will attract panhandlers, drugs, and encampments. “A lot of people are homeless for a reason,” mostly due to substance abuse, and should not be placed near seniors, “our most vulnerable people.”
- The Lincolnia Senior Center is on the border with Alexandria, and Alexandria residents were not informed about this project.
- It’s wrong to call the opponents of the shelter relocation anti-homeless. Residents understand and support the need to help the homeless while they still oppose the shelter relocation.
- The shelter will lead to more traffic congestion and safety concerns at “the worst intersection in Northern Virginia.”
- This process is supposed to be transparent, but residents weren’t notified.
- “Homelessness is not a crime.” It could happen to anyone, said a resident of Stonegate at Landmark. The shelter could lead to declining property values, but that does not matter. What does matter is that Lincolnia is not a good location for the homeless.
- “The shelter does more than just shelter the homeless. It serves the community,” including food distribution to needy people who live nearby, said Mary di Spirito, who has volunteered with the homeless for years.
- “The county is treating this as a real estate transaction, when it’s all about people,” said Mark Fraser. “The county is ignoring the risks.”
- Don’t treat homeless people like “animals,” said a woman who’s been homeless and now works as a peer support counselor at a shelter. “There is a future,” she said. “Who knows who’s a paycheck away from being homeless?” The county should provide a government center with services, not just a shelter.
- Instead of calling shelter residents “the homeless,” people should think about them as mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters, said a man who works with FACETS. “Please stop treating them as less than people.”
- “No one is saying we shouldn’t help the homeless,” said another community member. “It’s about location.”
- The green space attached to the senior center serves the surrounding community, not just the seniors. The county should not take it away.
- Children who walk to schoolbus stops in Lincolnia need to be protected.
- Seniors “are like children all over again.” They are vulnerable to crime. A shelter in their backyard is “not a safe environment for them.”