|A conceptual drawing of the new Bailey's Crossroads Community Shelter.|
Construction of a new, larger homeless shelter is expected to start next spring, said Tom Barnett, program manager with the Fairfax County Office to Prevent and End Homelessness, at a meeting of the Bailey’s Crossroads/Seven Corners Revitalization Corporation (BC7RC) Oct. 17. The new facility is expected to open in fall 2019.
The new $12 million, 21,000-square foot facility will have 18 “permanent supportive housing units,” as well as 52 beds for people needing emergency shelter, including four “medical beds.” There will be an outdoor plaza for residents in a sunken courtyard.
The shelter is being relocated 5914 Seminary Road to make away for the Columbia Crossroads redevelopment project.
BC7RC member Sean Ek, a resident of the Ellery Place townhouse community located between the new and existing shelter, complained about homeless people hanging around his backyard and drug abuse going on outside the shelter and in the vacant lot across the street. He sees police cars by the shelter several times a week.
“There have been a lot of complaints from the community. No one listens,” said Margaret Coleman, a resident of Summers Lane. She has seen homeless people in her backyard and washing up in the bathrooms at the Bailey’s Community Center and at Staples in the Crossroads Center.
“They come into our yards. They defecate in plain sight; they urinate in plain sight,” said her husband, Willie Coleman. He’s heard horror stories from nearby businesses. In one case, he said, diners at a Middle Eastern restaurant near Seminary Road got up and left after they looked out a window and saw people defecating by the dumpsters.
BC7RC member Joe Sirni, manager of the Crossroads Center, said he’s heard numerous complaints from shopping center tenants about homeless people going into stores panhandling and scaring away customers.
Another nearby resident, Nancy Carter, said the shelter needs better management. People who don’t follow standards of behavior shouldn’t be allowed to stay there, she said.
While community members at the meeting said they understood the need for the shelter, they want the county to ensure their safety.
Ek pressed the county and New Hope Housing, which recently took over management of Bailey’s Crossroads Community Shelter, to address the problems in the neighborhood. When the new facility opens, he asked them, “What will be different? What are the rules?”
“We don’t screen people out,” said Pamela Mitchell, the executive director of New Hope Housing. “They are free to do whatever they want during the day. We are not a jail.”
“We try not to be overly punitive,” added Amanda Dunning, singles program manager in the Office to Prevent Homelessness. Homeless people would likely be more of a nuisance if they were living on the street, she said.
Dunning sends an outreach team to “unsheltered people” living in their cars, in the woods, or in abandoned buildings. When she hears of homeless people causing problems, “we encourage people to behave in a respectful way,” she said “It requires persistent engagement to resolve complex problems.”
Under new rules set by the Office to Prevent and End Homelessness, clients no longer have to leave the shelter during the daytime. Most are expected to leave for work, health appointments, or a housing searches. There is a 9 p.m. curfew on weekdays and 10 p.m. on weekends.
According to Barnett, the population served at the existing shelter is three-quarters male. About a third are age 51 or older, 8 percent are military veterans, and 11 percent are victims of domestic violence, and many have chronic health problems. The average stay is less than two months.
The goal is housing stability, Barnett said. The 18 apartments at the shelter are for people who are unable to move into a market rate apartment and need long-term, ongoing support, as well as housing. The tenants are likely to be receiving disability payments or have low-wage jobs. They would pay about 30 percent of their income for rent. There is no limit on how long they can stay.
Security measures at the new shelter include access control systems, security cameras, duress alarms in case staff feel threatened, and external rounds every half hour, Barnett said.
The Board of Supervisors is taking on panhandling as a priority item and is working on a solution, Barnett said.
If people see someone on their property who isn’t supposed to be there, they can serve them with a trespassing order, he said. He advised people to call the police if someone is on their property causing a nuisance.
“If someone refuses to leave your property, we will arrest them,” said Sgt. Scott Morin of the Mason Police District. Panhandling is a “gray area,” he said. If panhandlers aren’t disrupting traffic or are allowed by a store owner, it’s not a crime.
The key question, is “why do people need shelter? We need to fix the root cause,” Morin said. “Homelessness is not a crime.”