Eisner will leave her post at the end of May, DHS spokesman Kurt Larrick confirmed. She is the latest high-level Arlington staffer to retire, following Police Chief Doug Scott’s announcement in January and County Manager Barbara Donnellan’s announcement last Friday.
Eisner has been with DHS for more than 30 years, joining the Arlington Employment Center in 1984 and working her way up to director in 2005. Although the timing is conspicuous after Donnellan’s announcement last week, a source tells ARLnow.com there’s “nothing sinister here” and that Eisner is just hoping to travel with her new husband.
Eisner immigrated to the United States when she was 8 years old and worked as an immigrant counselor before she joined DHS, her biography says. In DHS, she has served as chief of the Economic Independence Division and served for three years as DHS deputy director before taking over the top job from Marsha Allgeier.
“She is proud to have completed the consolidation of all DHS services here at Sequoia Plaza (Public Health and Behavioral Health are joining us here this summer, joining the rest of the programs that came her in 2010) and maximizing the integration of human services in a centralized location,” Larrick said in an email. She is “also proud of all the work the department has done to strengthen, protect and empower Arlingtonians in need.”
The county has not formally announced Eisner’s retirement. It’s unclear who will take over the department when she leaves her position.
Photo via Arlington County
The county’s Emergency Winter Shelter (EWS) opens for the 2014-2015 season tomorrow (Saturday). This will be the final season for the EWS, as the permanent homeless shelter under construction in Courthouse is set to open in spring.
The EWS will be open for vulnerable residents every day from 4:00 p.m.-9:00 a.m., through March 31. Hours may be extended on especially cold days, which happened during last season’s cold snap. The temporary facility at 2049 15th Street N. accommodates up to 74 people and other nearby facilities can be used as overflow during severe weather.
Arlington County funds the EWS and it is operated by the nonprofit Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network (A-SPAN), under the supervision of the county’s Department of Human Services. It provides homeless residents with facilities for sleeping, eating, showering and doing laundry.
A-SPAN also will operate the new Homeless Services Center (2020 14th Street N.) when it opens, which is expected to be in April.
“We are anticipating a seamless transition,” said Department of Human Services spokesman Kurt Larrick. “A-SPAN will continue to be the service provider and they’ve demonstrated they are great at what they do.”
The goal for employees of the new Homeless Services Center is not only to house homeless residents, but also to identify and tackle the issues that drove a person to homelessness. County agencies and nonprofit partners will continue to provide resources such as employment training, financial management assistance, and treatment for mental health and substance abuse.
“We’ve got a head start on this even before the new center opens – it’s essentially the same approach we used for the recently completed 100 Homes Campaign,” said Larrick. “It’s the approach we use in our Permanent Supportive Housing Programs – where we get the housing piece in place and then ensure that people get the supports they need to maintain their housing.”
In February, the County Board approved a $6.6 million contract for the new Homeless Services Center, and construction began in April. Right now, workers are continuing to repair weather-damaged columns in the former open parking area under part of the second floor. This known issue was part of the contract. Once the building inspector approves the fixes, workers can removed the extra steel supports installed to carry building loads during repairs, and move on to the next phase. Construction is scheduled to wrap up in March, in time for the April opening.
When finished, the shelter will house 50 year round beds on the third floor, with room for an additional 25 beds during the winter. The second floor will have a kitchen and dining area, in addition to a day room and offices for counseling. Floors four through seven will be converted to county offices at a later date.
Construction updates will be posted online.
There are currently about 90 children in Arlington in need of the temporary living arrangement foster families provide. These children are unable to live in their homes for a variety of reasons, such as abuse, neglect or severe family problems. Children may need to stay with a foster family for just a few days or months, or for years.
“We know that it takes a special set of skills to parent a child that’s not your own or has been abused or neglected,” said Alissa Green, Arlington County Resource Family Coordinator.
A particular need exists for families with diverse cultural backgrounds.
“The children who are in care, much like Arlington itself, is a very diverse group. But we have a limited number of minority foster parents,” said Green. “We don’t match children with families based on race, but we like to try to match them culturally, if possible.”
Families willing to take in sibling groups and teenagers also are in high demand. More than 50 percent of Arlington’s foster children are age 13 or older.
The goal is to get foster children back with their families as soon as it’s safely possible. However, sometimes that isn’t the best option and the foster children may be adopted. All parents who qualify to foster in Arlington also are qualified to adopt a child, should the occasion arise.
“Our goal is to find a permanent plan for these kids as soon as possible,” said Green.
The fostering information session will be next Saturday (November 8) from 10:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m. at 2100 Washington Blvd. Anyone interested in attending is asked to RSVP by calling 703-228-1550, or by emailing Erica Serrano at email@example.com. Potential foster parents can fill out paperwork at the session, and the next step is to schedule formal training.
The achievement will be celebrated tonight at the annual Community Meeting on Homelessness. The public is welcome to attend the event, which will be held at the National Rural Electrical Cooperative Association (NRECA) Conference Center (4301 Wilson Blvd) from 7:00-8:30 p.m. John Harvey, Virginia Secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs, will be the keynote speaker. He will talk about Virginia’s efforts to end veteran homelessness by the end of next year. Other speakers include County Board members and State Senator Barbara Favola.
County staff worked with nonprofit organizations to find housing for the people selected for 100 Homes. The following programs allowed for the housing:
- Arlington County Permanent Supportive Housing — 63 housed
- Housing Grant or Housing choice voucher — 12 housed
- Veterans (Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing Voucher) — 11 housed
- Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing — 13 housed
- Mary Marshall Assisted Living Residence — 1 housed
“This is an important milestone in our efforts to prevent and end homelessness,” said County Board Chairman Jay Fisette. “It’s wonderful to see residents, nonprofit groups, faith-based organizations, the business community and County government coming together to make a difference in the lives of some of our most vulnerable neighbors.”
Of the 100 residents housed since the program launched in 2011, 93 continue to live in the housing. Many of them had been on the streets for years and had difficulty accessing and maintaining housing.
“The retention rate has been remarkable,” said Kathy Sibert, president and chief executive officer of Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network (A-SPAN). “The key to this success is the supportive services that come with the housing. Case managers have done an outstanding job working with the clients to address issues like managing finances, maximizing employment and benefits, and connecting with mental health and substance abuse services.”
Just because the 100 Homes Campaign reached its goal does not mean the push to end homelessness in Arlington is finished. There will be a new initiative announced at tonight’s public meeting, called “Zero: 2016.” Arlington is joining the nationwide effort to end veteran and chronic homelessness.
“The [100 Homes] legacy will live on,” said Arlington Department of Human Services spokesman Kurt Larrick. “We learned a lot during the campaign, and partnered with a lot of great nonprofits, and we are carrying forward a lot of the concepts we learned.”
The Arlington County Board will decide next Tuesday whether to approve leasing an additional 72,742 square feet in the three buildings at Sequoia Plaza — 3,469 square feet in Sequoia Plaza Building 1, 10,994 square feet in Building 2 and all 58,279 square feet of Building 3. The county’s lease for this space, in additional to a renewal of the current 144,740 square feet it occupies in Building 1, would run through June 2030.
The additional space will occupy DHS programs currently housed in five buildings around the county, including three within walking distance of Virginia Hospital Center. The buildings and programs are as follows:
- Clarendon House, 3141 10th Street N.; Community-based rehabilitation of individuals with serious mental illnesses
- Drewry Center, 1725 N. George Mason Drive; Behavioral Healthcare Division mental health, substance abuse, and psychiatric services
- Edison Complex, adjacent to Virginia Hospital Center; Emergency services, Crisis Intervention Center of the Behavioral Healthcare Division
- Fenwick Center, 800 S. Walter Reed Drive; Communicable disease investigation, environmental health, administration for Public Health Division
- George Mason Center, 1801 N. George Mason Drive; Behavioral Healthcare Division administration and conference rooms
“Moving these programs into Sequoia Plaza will enable DHS to provide most of its services in one place, achieving operating efficiencies and offering convenience to DHS clients,” according to a report from county staff. “Clients in need of services that are provided in different locations currently must commute between the locations. That is highly inconvenient for the many DHS clients who lack vehicles or are disabled.”
Arlington says that despite these programs going from 83,850 square feet to 72,742, the space is adequate because Sequoia Plaza “is laid out more efficiently so that less floor area is required.” The base rent in the first year for the new space adds up to more than $2.2 million per year, which is projected to increase by 3.05 percent through the lease for Buildings 2 and 3 and 2.75 percent per year for the remaining space in Building 1.
The county has allocated $11.6 million for renovations to Sequoia Plaza, but the staff report says the consolidation of departments will “allow the County to avoid significant capital investments at the buildings being vacated.”
Photo via DHS
Across the country, the boom in unaccompanied minors emigrating from Central America has caused federal authorities to devote more resources to border protection and enforce stricter deportation policies.
While one Arlington official is calling the growth in this population a “crisis,” most say we’re not there yet. Nonetheless, the county is monitoring the situation and making preparations before such immigrants start to have an impact.
Last week, the Sun Gazette reported that School Board member Emma Violand-Sanchez and County Board member Walter Tejada met with representatives from the Guatemalan Consulate to discuss the trend of unaccompanied minor immigrants, and, after the meeting, Violand-Sanchez told the School Board it was a “crisis situation.”
Tejada told ARLnow.com this morning that, while he wouldn’t characterize Arlington’s current population of unaccompanied minors as a crisis, the county is taking steps to prepare in case the population grows substantially.
“We’re organizing right now and saying, ‘how do we deal with this, what issues are we confronting?’” Tejada said. “The most important question is the welfare of the kids. How do we protect the children from being taken advantage of and falling into the wrong world? It’s a very complicated situation.”
According to Arlington Public Schools spokeswoman Linda Erdos, there were only 10 students identified as “homeless/unaccompanied youth” in the last school year. There were also 83 students in APS’ “Accelerated Literacy Support” program as of June, for older students new to the country who need additional literary support. That number increased from 22 students in June 2012.
“Because we are currently on summer break, we may not know the full impact on APS of the immigration of youth from Central America until the end of August and/or later in the 2014-15 school year,” Erdos said in an email. “We know that we need to be prepared to address this, given the reports in the media, and the response from the President and the federal government. We are also watching the situation closely because we know this may have a major impact on our operating budget.”
Arlington’s Department of Human Services hasn’t seen an increase in unaccompanied minors, according to department spokesman Kurt Larrick. There are always a few who come to the county every year, Larrick said, and those “tend to be older, they tend to have had a rough life at home.”
“I don’t think we’re at a crisis now by any means,” Larrick said. “We’re a long way from the Central American border so I don’t think it’s as acute locally as in other parts of the country.”
Both Larrick and Erdos said Arlington is an appealing destination for many of these immigrants because of its reputation for being welcoming, which dates back to accepting Vietnamese refugees during and after the Vietnam War in the 1970s.
Tejada said it’s impossible to know if the immigrants will eventually come to Arlington in large numbers, but instead of “being reactionary” as the county has been in the past to similar issues, this time the county is being proactive. Tejada said the county plans to organize “mobile Consulates” from different countries with populations in Arlington, such as El Salvador and Guatemala, in August.
“We’re alerting our partners to stand by,” Tejada said. “There will be a call to action at some point, but we have to be careful not to put out a false call when there is no need.”
Morgan Fecto contributed to this report
Reginald Lawson, Arlington Department of Human Services’ supervisor of Adult Protective Services, oversees the department’s handling of hoarding cases, and he has a favorite story he likes to tell from his work.
“There was this person with some severe hoarding going on, and he had to be placed in a care facility,” Lawson said. “This person had such a great support network, they went through as a team and cleared out his place. There might have been one person who organized the clothes, another person went through the refrigerator. It may have taken a month, but the person was brought back to their home.”
Lawson sits on Arlington’s Hoarding Task Force along with staff from the Arlington County Fire Department and Arlington Code Enforcement. The three departments all deal with cases of hoarding throughout the county, depending on what the situation calls for. According to DHS spokesman Kurt Larrick, ACFD responds when there’s a fire hazard or medical emergency, Code Enforcement responds when there’s a building code violation and DHS gets involved if the hoarder has health, psychological or mental issues.
Hoarding entered the popular consciousness largely from the reality television program “Hoarders” on A&E, which documents cases of extreme hoarding and shows interventions to try to get the hoarders to change their ways. The vast majority of hoarding cases, however, are not filmed for TV nor do they often even make the news. There are about 40-65 hoarding cases per year in Arlington alone, officials say.
Hoarding, which is a problem in communities across the country, was thought to be a symptom of obsessive compulsive disorder as early as 1980. It was recognized as its own mental health disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders last year.
“When I came here eight years ago, my supervisor was one of the mental health experts on hoarding,” Lawson said. “I thought it was a term that we coined within Arlington County. We used to call hoarders ‘pack rats’ back when I was growing up in Louisiana. At the bare minimum now, people are more aware it’s an issue and a real disorder.”
The Hoarding Task Force was formed in 2003, and Patty Durham, DHS’s assistant director, has served as its chair for the past nine years. She emphasizes that the task force is just a place where representatives from the three agencies get together to talk about the cases they’ve worked, and serves exclusively as an administrative body.
“The discussion we have is sharing information about what’s happened so far in the case, so we know where we’re starting from, then we’re talking about where or when there’s an intervention,” Durham said. “If there’s [mental] competency or not competency, that comes into play. You can’t do things against people’s will if there’s competency. It’s a matter of understanding where the case is and understanding what can be done.”
Hoarding calls typically run the gamut from a false alarm of someone who has an unusually cluttered yard or apartment, to extreme cases where papers, boxes and other items are stacked in every room in the house, blocking doorways and endangering the structural stability of the building.
According to the International OCD Foundation, studies have shown that about 4 percent of the population suffers from hoarding disorder. Larrick said “The line between a messy lifestyle and hoarding is usually crossed when the person’s ability to function adequately is compromised.”
“If someone is no longer able to cook meals at home, if they can’t live safely in their own home or if they pose a safety risk to others,” are indicators that an individual has a hoarding problem, not a clutter problem. “Most people hoard items because they think the items have value and don’t want them to go to waste. Many hoarders consider themselves information junkies so the items they hoard tend to be newspapers, magazines, brochures and other information-rich items. Emotional attachment is the third most common reason for hoarding. Objects can have a sentimental association to important persons, places or events in the hoarder’s life.” (more…)
Located next to Rustico restaurant in the Liberty Center development, the fountain is privately owned and operated by property owner the Shooshan Company, according to county officials.
It has been on for years and children have played in it during the summers, but the Shooshan Company voluntarily turned it off this past fall after county inspectors discovered it had never had a health and safety license.
In fact, it was only discovered to be permit-less when a county Department of Human Services inspector was driving by and noticed the fountain and realized it hadn’t been inspected.
“The fountain at Liberty Center didn’t have the right water monitoring and quality control,” DHS spokesman Kurt Larrick said. “If children have access to it, then the water quality needs to be regulated. They have to follow the same code as other water features.”
The Shooshan Company has applied for a license, Larrick said, but the county sent back their plan, asking for it to include water quality measuring and a monitoring schedule, as well as signage and a proposal for remote shut-off capability. The “ball is back in their court,” Larrick said.
Calls to the Shooshan Company were not immediately returned.
The fountain is considered “an interactive water feature” which, according to county ordinance, needs to have lifeguards and fencing, but, as is the case with a similar fountain at Penrose Square on Columbia Pike, the county can waive those requirements if they are deemed unnecessary, Larrick said.
Flickr pool photo by Maryva2
A Falls Church woman has been arrested and charged with obtaining more than $28,000 in public assistance from Arlington County thanks to forged documents, according police.
From this week’s Arlington County crime report:
FORGERY OF PUBLIC RECORDS & FALSE STATEMENTS AND REPRESENTATIONS,05/01/13, 2100 block of N. Washington Boulevard. Between October 2010 and April 2013, a subject obtained approximately $28,121 of public assistance from Arlington County by forging documents and providing false statements in regards to residency, welfare status and medical diagnosis. April Dugard, 35, of Falls Church, VA was arrested and charged with Forgery of Public Records and Making False Statement and Representations. She was issued an unsecured bond.
“The individual was using forged physicians’ notes to certify a medical condition, and forged school forms,” said Arlington Department of Human Services (DHS) spokesman Kurt Larrick. “The forgeries were were pretty sophisticated.”
“We take fraud seriously, and have effective safeguards to prevent it,” Larrick continued. “When it does occur, we always take appropriate measures, which can include restitution and prosecution.”
Larrick was unable to elaborate on the accusations, explaining that DHS “can’t really say much about a case that is in the legal system.”
The rest of the crime report, after the jump. All suspects are presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law.
Wreath Laying at Arlington Nat’l Cemetery — Some 20,000 volunteers placed more than 110,000 wreaths on graves at Arlington National Cemetery on Saturday. It was the 21st annual wreath-laying event at the cemetery, and the largest number of wreaths ever delivered for the event. [Stars and Stripes, Wreaths Across America]
Donations for Secret Santa Due Tomorrow — Those who want to donate gift cards to the Arlington Department of Human Services’ “Secret Santa” program are asked to do so by tomorrow. The program provides a bit of holiday joy to children in foster care, people with disabilities, low income seniors and needy families. [Arlington County]
Garvey Sworn In — Libby Garvey was sworn in for her first full term on the Arlington County Board Friday evening. The event was complete with a reception and a Benjamin Franklin impersonator. County Board member Chris Zimmerman — whose consulting work was publicly scrutinized by Garvey recently — was not in attendance. [Sun Gazette]
Flickr pool photo by Sunday Money
On Saturday, 14 local children will celebrate becoming part of “forever families,” during an Arlington ceremony for National Adoption Day.
Nine families will gather at the Arlington County Courthouse tomorrow (November 17) in recognition of their adoptions being finalized this year. All of the children had previously been in foster care.
There are currently about 100 children in foster homes in Arlington, most of them having been removed from their birth parents due to unfit living conditions. Although the goal is to ultimately reunite the children with their birth families once situations improve, that is not always the best option for the safety of the children involved. The children who will not return to their birth families are then cleared for adoption.
Social workers are involved throughout the process to assess the needs of each individual child and to help find a family that is a good match. Nakejah Allen, who is an adoption social worker in Arlington, said it’s a challenge to find the right fit.
“For the kids that are in foster care, there has often been something that has happened to them,” Allen said. “Sometimes it’s just a matter of helping adoptive families to understand the trauma and how that can affect attachment.”
Allen said two other significant challenges include finding homes for children ages 13 and older and finding parents willing to adopt siblings. Melody Smith and her husband, Christian, adopted a brother and sister who had been in foster care in Arlington, and they’ll be celebrating at tomorrow’s Adoption Day ceremony.
“I’m also from a very large family and the thought of them separating siblings breaks my heart,” Melody said. “We started the process thinking about a single child, but after hearing the stats and information, we felt if we could do that we would go that route.”
The Smiths live in Newport News and were placed with the children via an adoption agency and the help of Arlington’s Department of Human Services. For three months, the couple traveled to Arlington three times a week to meet with the children. The kids finally moved in with the Smiths around Christmas last year, and the adoption became official about a month ago.
“We didn’t even tell them [the kids] the day it became official. My wife came crying to me at work because it became official, but as far as they’re concerned, the day they moved in it was official,” Christian said.
Although Melody and Christian’s children had been removed from their birth parents’ home due to severe neglect, the children’s grandmothers had been loving and nurturing. Melody credits one of the grandmothers with keeping alive their daughter, who was only born with one kidney and it wasn’t fully functioning. The family continues to meet with the grandmothers, as well as the foster family with whom the children had been living prior to the Smiths.
Earlier this month, the 2012 National Conference on Ending Homelessness recognized Arlington County as one of 15 communities nationwide that are “on track” to end homelessness among the medically vulnerable within four years.
The claim is based on a benchmark set by the National Alliance to End Homelessness — cities or counties that moved 2.5 percent of their chronically ill homeless population into permanent housing each month made the list.
Arlington’s “100 Homes” campaign, a partnership with the nonprofit A-SPAN, put about 30 homeless people with life-threatening medical issues into permanent, federally-funded supported housing since starting up last October.
“It does actually cost the community a lot more to leave them homeless,” said A-SPAN Director of Development Jan-Michael Sacharko. “If you can keep people out of the emergency room, out of shelters, out of jails, you save a lot more money.”
The initiative, an outgrowth of the national “100,000 Homes” campaign, was cost-free, Department of Human Services spokesman Kurt Larrick said.
And it rallied significant volunteer support. About 180 volunteers went out at 4 a.m. for three days last fall to survey the homeless and check for those with hypothermia, chronic kidney disease, AIDS, HIV or other diseases.
“We’ve always had data on people who were homeless in Arlington,” Larrick said. “This was the most specific.”
Larrick said the survey found 113 “extremely vulnerable” homeless people. The 30 who moved into permanent housing did so with existing county and federal housing programs. Many are clients of A-SPAN, which provides individual case managers to track progress.
As of Arlington’s last count, which came in January, there are 451 homeless people on the streets and in homeless shelters, Larrick said.
Flickr pool photo by Chris Rief
Today is World AIDS Day, and Arlington County is marking the occasion by offering free HIV testing.
The HIV rapid testing is available from 4:00 to 7:00 this afternoon at 800 S. Walter Reed Drive. No appointment is necessary, but residents can call 703-228-1200 for more information.
More information about the county’s HIV and STD testing services is available here.
Last night the paper published a piece by Local Opinion Editor Barbara Hollingsworth entitled “Federal judge should hear Arlington CPS case.” The article accuses Arlington’s Child Protective Services department of improperly taking away a baby girl from her birth parents and placing her into foster care. According to Hollingsworth’s account, the baby was taken from her parents in 2005 amid unfounded accusations of neglect and starvation.
Citing two different cases of children separated from their parents, Hollingsworth has been making the case that “thieves disguised as Arlington County social workers and judges” have been “tearing families apart” in child abuse and neglect cases.
The Examiner reports that a lawsuit was recently filed in Alexandria federal court on behalf of eight children who have been placed in foster care by Arlington County. According to Hollingsworth:
The list of serious accusations contained in the lawsuit against DJR Judges George Varoutsos and Esther Wiggins, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Jason McCandless, and various Arlington CPS officials is long: perjury, RICO violations of civil rights, fraud upon the court, obstruction of justice, unconstitutional “ex parte” hearings, court orders that were never served, depriving parents of their due process rights, “missing” court orders, illegal searches and seizures, and felony removal of documents from court files, to name just a few.
Though Arlington County is prohibited from saying much of anything about child welfare cases, Department of Human Services spokesman Kurt Larrick said the county is committed to helping children.
“Due to the potential for litigation and our obligation to protect the privacy of children and families within the child welfare system, I am not able to comment on Ms. Hollingsworth’s Nov. 15 opinion piece,” Larrick said in an email. “I can say that Arlington County takes seriously its responsibility to ensure the health, safety and well-being of children, and we are proud to offer a broad range of services and supports that preserve and strengthen families.”
As Hollingsworth wrote to conclude her latest article: “Stay tuned.”
Next week is national Mental Health Awareness Week and Arlington County is using the occasion to emphasize ways residents can help prevent suicide.
From 2005 to 2010 there were 102 suicide deaths in Arlington, according to the county’s Department of Human Services. During those six years, 71 percent of the deaths were among males, and most of those males were in their 30s or 40s.
Arlington’s average yearly suicide rate is 8.21 deaths per 100,000 residents. Though that rate is lower than the comparative national rate of 11.1 suicide deaths per 100,000 people (36,000 deaths in the U.S. per year), Arlington County is reminding residents that they can help prevent a tragedy by recognizing the following early warning signs of suicidal behavior.
- Talk, threats or plans about hurting oneself, death or suicide
- Feeling hopeless
- Feeling uncontrolled rage or anger
- Acting recklessly, seemingly without thinking
- Feeling trapped
- Increasing or excessive alcohol or drug use
- Withdrawing from friends, family, society
- Feeling anxious, agitated or unable to sleep
- Dramatic mood swings
- Feeling purposeless, with no reasons to live
If someone you know exhibits any of those signs, you’re encouraged to call the Arlington County Mental Health Emergency Service 24-hour hotline at 703-228-5160. If you yourself are having thoughts of suicide, seek help by calling CrisisLink at 703-527-4077 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.