Progressive Voice: New Homeless Shelter Provides More Than a Bed for Arlington’s Homeless

Ann FelkerProgressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or

Arlington’s dignified new Homeless Services Center (HRC) opened Oct. 1 — ironically, on a day that would cause only the strongest of us to stay outside.

Steady, storm-driven rain had begun as over 400 guests took the elevator to the second floor of the new facility in the Courthouse area.

A-SPAN (Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network) is contracted to run the facility, and A-SPAN’s staff, board members and CEO Kathy Sibert, hosted the long-awaited opening with gusto. Greeting the first invited guests were cheerful paint colors, crisply made beds, fully functional showers, a complete kitchen and laptops and desks in a classroom. Six local restaurants donated trays of tasty refreshments to extend the hospitality.

Local elected officials from County Board Members to Richmond legislators, who had all worked to bring the project to completion, participated in a heartfelt ceremony to congratulate the dedication of County staff, A-SPAN staff, and neighborhood leaders in helping make HRC a reality.

But mostly, the service center, a dream of A-SPAN’s founder, Lora Rinker, bustled with Arlingtonians who have believed in the work of Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network since Lora started serving bagged meals and soup to the homeless from a location beside the Clarendon Post Office more than 20 years ago.

Tucked inside the renovated office building are service facilities that will complement those well-thought-out living amenities. Dedicated caseworkers will now provide support services for all homeless in cubicles that allow respect for the client’s privacy and welfare.

The classroom will facilitate invaluable lessons in how to live inside and how to get and keep a job. A bright dining room assures that all residents will eat healthfully while a commercial kitchen will both allow meals to be served at the proper temperature and, eventually, become another classroom for job skill preparation.

A permanent nurse practitioner now has an office to monitor health and hopefully avoid illness in a space where 50 people live and 30 more work. Homeless people, released from the hospital, will be able to recover “inside” thanks to the inclusion of five respite rooms fitted out with beds donated by Virginia Hospital Center.

Homeless folks have their own treasures and keepsakes, so there is a locker area where valuables can be stored and a clothing closet for upgrading wardrobes.

There was no nostalgia for the former shelter facility or the remote, though aptly named, “Opportunity Place” located in Shirlington. New beginnings mean new hope for both residents and staff.

The reality is that not all of the homeless of Arlington will be housed in the Homeless Services Center. The cohort that remains outside will continue to receive enhanced A-SPAN assistance based on the new, and fully accessible facility. More showers and washing machines are just the material evidence of the continuum of services the HRC allows.

While the HRC will be a professionally run operation, there is still plenty of need for the extensive crew of dedicated ASPAN volunteers to continue specific, day in and day out help — serving street meals (come rain or come shine), sorting donations, supporting office staff, and more.

The new classroom offers a potential for others to share expertise. For more information about the volunteering, contact Amanda Mark: [email protected] or 703-228-7813.

Much of the funding for A-SPAN’s work comes from federal, state and local grants, but local charitable donations are an important source, too. Participate in a mini-walk, provide a new mattress for a “welcome home” event, donate an old car, become a Friend of A-SPAN. Check out the website for the latest news.

After all reception guests departed last week, the first residents moved across Courthouse parking lot to their new quarters. The brightly colored walls, comfortable but sturdy furniture, and even a well-stocked bookshelf send the message that this space will be a friendly place to stay while on the road to something better.

A-SPAN’s Mission Statement clearly declares that “Ending Homelessness in Arlington” is the goal of all activity in the building and on the street…. this convenient, welcoming space is intended to stimulate and prepare everyone to move into a place called HOME. In between, A-SPAN and the HRC provide dignity as a catalyst.

Ann Felker is a long-time resident of Arlington who has participated in many education, community service and faith activities in the County. She is a former member of the A-SPAN Board of Directors. Ann’s photo is courtesy of her granddaughter, Kenna Geary.

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