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A Look Inside the County’s Emergency Winter Shelter

Arlington’s emergency winter shelter in Courthouse is now open and serving dozens of homeless individuals. On Saturday, reporters got a tour of the facility.

The Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network, which runs the shelter, gave the tour in advance of the group’s Community Walk for Homelessness. The group highlighted the shelter’s housing case management, nursing services and mental health services.

Also emphasized during the tour was A-SPAN’s big push for the funding and resources needed to operate the shelter year-round.

“Homelessness is not a five month issue, it’s a 12 month issue,” said Kathy Sibert, A-SPAN’s executive director. Newly re-elected congressman Jim Moran, who stopped by to offer words of encouragement, agreed.

“I would like for [the shelter] to be all year round,” he said. “We have people in the community who ought not suffer when we have the resources we do.”

The shelter can only stay open from Nov. 1 to March 31 due to insufficient funding and building code issues, Sibert said. If the shelter is to operate year-round, a new facility and additional funding must be obtained. A-SPAN is working with county staff and the county board to figure out a way to turn its vision of a year-round shelter into reality.

The current shelter facility is remarkably clean and well-kept — Sibert places an emphasis on cleanliness — but there’s no hiding the fact that it’s in an aging building that’s probably just a few years away from being torn down to make way for new development.

The shelter increased its capacity last year, and now serves about four times as many women as it did before. It sleeps 73 individuals, with men and women on separate floors, and can feed and clean an additional 15 even after sleeping spaces run out. During dire situations, like last winter’s snow storms, A-SPAN works with the county to secure extra capacity. One option that was exercised this year was bringing shelter clients to the Arlington County jail, across the street.

A-SPAN, which enjoys an abundance of volunteers during most times of the day, is currently seeking evening volunteers to work from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. It’s also looking for donations of toiletries, cereal, towels, socks and underwear.

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