Arlington, VA

The number of people experiencing homelessness in Arlington County may have decreased, according to new data released last week.

Homeless young adults and the incidence of chronically homeless adults, however, may be on the rise.

A total of 215 individuals were reported as homeless in Arlington, according to the most recent Point in Time (PIT) data from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG). That’s six fewer people than last year’s count.

By comparison, 232 people were found to be homeless in the county in 2017, which represented a spike upward from 174 in 2016. Arlington’s homelessness rates peaked in 2010, with 532 recorded as living without a home.

PIT is a nationwide census that recruits local volunteers to tally the number of people they find living on the streets and in shelters during one night in January every year. The volunteers also collect information on the people they tally, like whether they are living alone or with family members. The Department of Housing and Urban Development uses the resulting data to allocate resources nationwide.

“Overall, the Point-in-Time numbers continue to validate the strategies laid out in our Action Plan for Ending Homelessness and the ongoing work of our Continuum of Care,” said Kurt Larrick, assistant director of the county Department of Human Services. “We had an overall decrease of 3 percent this year.”

Larrick added in an email that the county will use the PIT count along with its year-round data to address challenges and pinpoint needs.

“Limited housing options are probably the biggest barrier, particularly to those experiencing chronic homelessness and those who have disabilities and housing barriers,” he said “We know that combining housing with rental subsidies and support services tailored to individual needs is the most effective way to help people attain stable housing, and this will continue to be part of our overall strategy moving forward.”

During last year’s PIT count, Arlington began seeking out more information about kids and young adults who were living on the streets or in one of the county’s five shelters. The data collected in January found six young adults ages 18 to 24 who were homeless on their own, and four who were with their families — the highest such count in at least the past five years.

Sixty-six people were counted in 2019 as living homeless with their families in the county, down from 77 the year before. Of the 66 family members counted this year, 26 were children.

MWCOG wrote on its website that 9,794 homeless people were counted across the Greater Washington Area, making this, “the fewest number of people counted since the annual regional census — or Point in Time (PIT) count — began 18 years ago.”

Regionwide, the number of veterans recorded as experiencing homelessness decreased by 6 percent. But in Arlington two more veterans were recorded in 2019 compared to 2018, according to the full 180-page MWCOG report. Arlington also recorded 17 additional adults who are considered “chronically homeless.”

The report notes that area governments “attribute the slight increase in the number of residents counted as chronically homeless from 2018 to 2019 primarily to a lack of affordable housing options, particularly permanent supportive housing, to enable more residents to exit homelessness and remain stably housed.”

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Morning Notes

Good News for Ed Center Project — “It may not come with all the bells and whistles, but county school officials should be able to convert the Arlington Education Center building into classroom space without exceeding the $37 million budgeted for the project. Two estimates… came in slightly under budget to turn the former school-system headquarters into classroom space for 500 to 600 students.” [InsideNova]

Succession Question for Va.’s Leaders — Under fire for each of their own controversies, resignations by Virginia’s Democratic governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general could end up triggering a special election or even elevating a Republican state lawmaker into one of the top jobs. Meanwhile, the chaos in Richmond was the lead story on the national evening news this week — twice — and made the cover of this morning’s New York Post, with the headline “Virginia is for Losers.” [Politico, Twitter]

Amazon and Homelessness — “Along with the promise of 25,000 high-paying jobs will come more expensive housing, and possibly, more people priced out of homes, and some, falling through the cracks. Seattle, where Amazon is based, has a huge problem with homelessness. Will Seattle’s problems become ours?” [WUSA 9]

Possible Presidential Candidate Lives in Arlington — Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who is considering a run for president, reportedly rents a three-bedroom home in Arlington with her husband, for their time in the D.C. area. The current rent is estimated at $4,500 per month. [Heavy]

Merger of Banks with Local Branches — “BB&T will buy SunTrust Banks for about $28 billion in an all-stock deal, the companies said on Thursday, creating the sixth largest U.S. lender in the biggest bank deal since the 2007-2009 financial crisis.” [CNBC]

Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf

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Over the last few years, Arlington police and prosecutors have embraced a controversial tactic to deal with people who are frequently drunk in public — but most county residents don’t even know it exists.

The unusual process, known as “interdiction,” allows county prosecutors to ask a judge to declare someone a “habitual drunkard” if they’ve committed several alcohol-related offenses. That designation means these “drunkards” can be charged with a misdemeanor and jailed for up to a year if they’re found so much as buying or drinking alcohol again.

Virginia and Utah are the only states in the entire country with this sort of law on the books; the commonwealth’s statute passed just before the turn of the 20th century.

Accordingly, interdictions are far from commonplace in the county — prosecutors estimate that they’ve only interdicted 12 people dating back to September 2015, and that just 50 people around Arlington are currently deemed “drunkards.”

But the latter figure is the third highest for any locality across the entire state, according to statistics compiled by the Charlottesville-based Legal Aid Justice Center. Only Virginia Beach and Roanoke have more interdicted people, with 616 and 140 respectively.

And Arlington’s place on that list disturbs attorneys and advocates alike, given the brewing controversy over interdictions.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos, the county’s top prosecutor, dubs interdiction a “tool of last resort,” helping officers force people who are constantly drunk to finally get help. Yet critics believe it has a massively disproportionate impact on the homeless, and that police use it as a cudgel against people living on the streets who are struggling with substance abuse issues.

Others still argue that it robs interdicted people of due process — prosecutors request the “drunkard” designation in a civil hearing rather than a criminal one, meaning that even indigent defendants aren’t entitled to have an attorney present for the proceedings.

A legal challenge to the law on those grounds is currently working its way through federal court, while an Arlington public defender-turned-state lawmaker is working to repeal the statute in this year’s General Assembly session.

Yet, as those efforts proceed, some legal observers can’t understand why county police and prosecutors still pursue interdictions at all, given their stated commitment to other kinds of criminal justice reform.

“It’s inappropriate, unfair, and it doesn’t work,” Brad Haywood, Arlington’s chief public defender, told ARLnow. “In over 15 years as an attorney, I’ve served as a public defender in two of the few jurisdictions that still actively enforce this law. While I can think of many who owe their sobriety to residential alcohol treatment, intensive outpatient services and the expertise and compassion of mental health professionals, I can’t think of anyone who owes their sobriety to interdiction. Not a single person.”

Criminalizing the homeless, or a ‘last resort’ for addicts?

To Haywood, who has strongly criticized Stamos in the past, interdiction effectively criminalizes homelessness. After all, he points out that the law “only targets people who possess or drink alcohol while visible to others,” which essentially leaves just the homeless, many of whom turn to alcohol to make it through the day or are gripped by addiction.

“They live their entire lives in public,” Haywood said. “If they have alcohol, drink it, or are drunk, they will be seen, and under this statute, they will be arrested.”

Of course, he believes there are other “problem drinkers” around the county. As he puts it: “I read ARLnow, I know what happens on the Wilson Boulevard corridor on weekends.”

But he argues police have embraced a completely different strategy for those cases, choosing to work with popular bars to encourage stronger partnerships and prevent arrests, even though the circumstances are similar.

“If the goal of interdiction is to curb problem drinking generally, and to be equitable about it, then I’d think the Arlington bar scene would receive some attention,” Haywood said. “It hasn’t, obviously, and I’m not suggesting it should, but if it had, you’d have certainly have heard about it by now. “

However, law enforcement officials note that they’re not using interdictions indiscriminately, or targeting all homeless people. County police spokeswoman Ashley Savage says officers ask for interdictions “only in the most significant cases, where public safety resources are utilized for the same individual on a [recurring] basis.”

She adds that police take into consideration whether people are committing “criminal violations while intoxicated” as well as “concerns for the safety of the individual or those around them” in making such a decision.

“The goal is not to wantonly incarcerate people,” Stamos said. “A lot of these people are not mindful of their surroundings and can be victimized… and it’s a safety concern. We see pedestrian accidents every single day, and in some cases it’s because people are wandering into the street.”

Stamos says that, in many cases, her office only interdicts people after family and friends urge some sort of drastic step to force them to get help.

For instance, Stamos says prosecutors have interdicted four people since July 2017 — and those people had an average of 19 prosecutions each for alcohol-related offenses before being declared a “drunkard.” Prosecutors pursued a high of 37 cases against one person; the person with the smallest total had been prosecuted four times, and even then they’d been drunk during 35 different encounters with county medics over a two-year period.

“This is absolutely a last resort to hook them up with services,” Stamos said. “It’s a deprivation of liberty, but it’s done with the purpose of getting these people in jail, and getting them sober.”

It may not be a perfect solution, but county officials say they work hard to find people with substance abuse issues once they’re in jail, then get them help.

Kelly Nieman, who works on the county’s forensic jail diversion team, says Arlington has been a leader across the state in finding ways to treat inmates’ mental health issues or substance abuse problems, which are often interconnected. She hopes that helps stop people from “revolving in and out of the system.”

“We have a model to intercept individuals at junctions when they butt up against the legal system,” Nieman said. “We screen people for services and develop a release plan to get them back into the community.”

Stamos says she’d love to have another way to “induce compliance” with a treatment program for homeless addicts, but she just doesn’t see one available to her prosecutors.

“Give us another tool, and we’ll use it,” Stamos said. “If you do away with this statute, give us more money for treatment services.”

While he acknowledges that the county does good work in this area, Haywood pushes back against the notion that workers at the county jail should be “front-line caretakers for the chronically mentally ill, which is what most interdicted people actually are.” He’d rather police connect the homeless to dedicated treatment services, rather than simply sending them to jail.

“That’s a job for mental health professionals, in settings appropriate to the treatment of addiction and serious mental illness,” Haywood said. “If what we want is to help the most destitute, vulnerable people in our community, we should ensure they have access to intensive mental health and substance abuse treatment services, and stop pretending we’re making the situation better by locking sick people away so the public can’t see them.”

Challenging the process

Elaine Poon, the managing attorney for the Legal Aid Justice Center, also believes that the very manner in which the statute is written makes the process punitive, not rehabilitative. Her group is leading a legal challenge to the law, arguing that interdictions create a vicious cycle for people declared “drunkards.”

Poon notes that police can — and do — pursue all manner of charges against people who are drunk in public. What sets interdictions apart is that people designated as “drunkards” can be prosecuted for simply drinking alcohol or having it in their possession, which she believes help police wrack up charge after charge against the same people.

According to Stamos’ own statistics, the 12 people her office have interdicted since 2015 have subsequently been prosecuted an average of three times each for possessing alcohol or appearing drunk in public. Poon believes this shows how interdicting someone can simply compound the time they spend in jail, criminalizing people “just for being who they are: a homeless person on the street.”

Poon feels this is all the more disturbing because many people who are declared “drunkards” don’t understand the process, and don’t have legal representation at the hearing deciding whether they’ll be interdicted in the first place. Most homeless people rely on the service of court-appointed public defenders, as they can’t afford their own lawyers, but the civil nature of the interdiction proceedings means that a judge is not required to assign them counsel.

Stamos says her prosecutors go to great lengths to find people set for an interdiction hearing, and get them to a sign paperwork acknowledging they’re aware of when they can come to court.

But Poon points out that many of her clients easily lose any forms they’ve been given by police — they don’t have homes, after all — and don’t attend the hearings, or are too mentally ill to understand a complex legal matter.

Jennifer Carroll Foy, a public defender in Arlington, says she’s often come to court and made such arguments to a judge about her interdicted clients. But her protests are commonly dismissed as a “collateral attack” on a civil case — even though that case has a direct impact on the charges her clients are facing.

“It may be a civil process, but there are criminal ramifications,” Foy said. “If there’s a possibility you’ll go to jail, I absolutely believe an attorney should be there.”

Stamos says her hands are tied by the statute in this case, arguing that public defenders “have no role” under the law in these interdiction cases.

“Their frustration shouldn’t be with my office, it should be with the system,” Stamos said.

Changing the law

Foy is in a unique position to address such displeasure with the law; she doubles as a state delegate representing parts of Prince William and Stafford counties, and has introduced legislation to repeal the “habitual drunkard” statute this year for a second time in a row.

Her bill died quickly in a subcommittee last year, but she’s more optimistic this time around, now that she’s worked to raise awareness about the issue.

“The most difficult part is educating people about it, because they don’t even know this law exists,” said Foy, a Democrat representing the House of Delegates’ 2nd District. “I hope it picks up a lot more traction this time.”

Though Democrats have a bit more clout in Richmond after a wave election in 2017, the party is still in the minority in both chambers of the General Assembly. That means Foy will face an uphill battle in getting anything passed, at least for now.

Poon is hopeful that the courts could provide some relief instead. A three-judge panel on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the case last August, but Poon’s organization is appealing the ruling to the full court, which could have the final say on the law’s constitutionality.

However, she says it’s “a mystery” when, or if, the court will agree to take the case.

In the meantime, interdictions in Arlington continue. County police referred two more people to Stamos’ prosecutors to be designated as “drunkards” just last fall.

“We have to do better when it comes to how we help the most vulnerable class of citizen in this state,” Foy said. “We’re not doing a very good job right now.”

File photo

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DC Fray, a social sports organization in DC, will host its fourth annual Santa Bowl Flag Football Tournament Saturday at Long Bridge Park.

Players can head to 475 Long Bridge Drive on Dec. 1 to play in the seven-on-seven co-ed tournament. Registration — $49 per player and $450 per team of at least 12 players — closes on Wednesday (Nov. 28), or when the tournament fills up.

The Santa Bowl will benefit the local non-profit Bridges to Independence, which offers assistance to help people out of homelessness.

Teams are asked to donate at least five grocery bags worth of the items, including:

  • nonperishable food, excluding peanut butter
  • new, full-size toiletries
  • diapers and wipes
  • paper products including toilet paper and paper towels
  • gift cards to Giant, Shoppers, Safeway or Target
  • Metro SmartTrip cards

Prizes will be given to the top placing tournament winners and also to the team that collects the most donations.

Photo via DC Fray/Facebook

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Morning Notes

Arlington Holds Disaster Drill for Cyclists — “On Saturday BikeArlington and the Office of Emergency Management held the county’s first Disaster Relief Trial, modeled after such events in Oregon, Washington, and California… 70 registered families, teams, and individual bikers traveled throughout Arlington, stopping at four checkpoints and completing eight challenges.” [Local DVM]

Marymount Launches Internship Fund — “Marymount University has announced plans to financially support students who intern at non-profit organizations that do not have the resources to pay them. The new ‘Sister Majella Berg Internship Fund’ is a way to solidify partnerships between the university and local safety-net organizations, new Marymount University president Irma Becerra said.” [InsideNova]

AT&T Donates $30K to Local Nonprofit — “Bridges to Independence announced today a new contribution from AT&T. A private, nonprofit organization, Bridges is dedicated to serving families experiencing homelessness in the City of Alexandria and Arlington County, VA. AT&T’s support will directly benefit Bridges’ mission by expanding the organization’s Youth Development Program which serves children experiencing homelessness.” [Press Release]

Ballston Apartment Building Sold — “The Chevy Chase Land Company… announced today the $90 million acquisition of 672 Flats, a 173-Unit Class A apartment building in the heart of Ballston.” [Press Release]

Flickr pool photo by Brian Irwin

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(Updated May 16, 9 a.m.) An Arlington County office building in Courthouse that’s home to the county’s 24-hour homeless shelter is cleaning up from some heavy flooding Tuesday (May 15).

A water pipe on the top floor of the seven-story building at 2020 14th Street N. broke Monday night (May 14), according to Jessica Baxter, a spokeswoman for the county’s Department of Environmental Services.

Baxter told ARLnow that “drainage from the broken pipe impacted all areas of the building,” including the county’s Homeless Services Center, other government offices and even the Chelsea Market & Deli and Ragtime Restaurant on the building’s ground floor.

“County contractors are on-site cleaning up the water, repairing the pipe and recharging the chilled water system to restore HVAC services on floors 4-7,” Baxter wrote in an email. “HVAC services for the lower floors were not impacted.”

Baxter says the flooding has not impacted services at the shelter, but it has forced county employees working on the first and fifth floors to temporarily relocate to the other offices.

The county bought the building for $27 million in 2012, in part to open a new, year-round shelter for the homeless. The shelter opened in 2015.

Photo via Google Maps

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Morning Notes

Homelessness Still Falling in Arlington — The annual count of homeless individuals in the region found that the homeless population in Arlington is continuing to fall. According to numbers from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, there were 221 people experiencing homelessness in Arlington during the count this year. That’s down from 232 last year and 479 in 2013, but up from 174 in 2016. [MWCOG]

ACPD Using Robocalls to Catch Serial Flasher — Arlington County Police are using automated phone calls to ask residents for tips about the man wanted for repeated indecent exposure incidents in the Rosslyn, Courthouse and Ft. Myer Heights areas. [WJLA]

Twitter User Battles Shopping Carts — Like @CartsOfPCArl before it, @CartChaos22202 is fighting a lonely war against stray, abandoned shopping carts in Pentagon City and Crystal City. [Twitter]

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Morning Notes

Local Reaction to NYC Terror Attack — Local officials are offering words of condolence for the victims of yesterday’s terror attack in New York City. [Twitter, Twitter]

Did Gorka Park on a Rosslyn Sidewalk? — A photo posted on Twitter seems to show the Ford Mustang convertible owned by former Trump administration official Sebastian Gorka parked on a sidewalk in front of the Key Bridge Marriott in Rosslyn. It is unclear why Gorka would have parked on the sidewalk and he has thus far not confirmed that it was indeed him. [Twitter, Washingtonian, Washington Examiner]

More on Rosslyn Food Hall — New details about the new food hall planned for Rosslyn: it will be called Common Ground, it will have about 10 different food vendors and it is not expected to open until late 2018. [Washington Business Journal]

VRE Picks ‘Option 2’ for Crystal City — Virginia Railway Express says it will move forward with “Option 2” for its planned Crystal City station upgrade. The plan places the station within easy walking distance of the Crystal City Metro station but it was opposed by condominium residents concerned about noise and pollution. [InsideNova]

Arlington’s Homelessness Effort — “Now nine years into a 10-year push to end homelessness here, Arlington County has virtually wiped out homelessness among veterans, and it’s on track to house the vast majority of single individuals who still need a roof over their heads.” [Arlington Magazine]

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Morning Notes

Reaction to Las Vegas Shooting — Reactions from local officials are beginning to come in in response to the mass shooting at a Las Vegas concert, which is now the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. “Will the corporate gun lobby please wake up? #PrayersAreNotEnough #HowManyMore?” tweeted state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D). Meanwhile, a “gun violence prevention roundtable” planned today in Alexandria, with former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and Captain Mark Kelly, has been cancelled “in light of today’s events.” [Twitter, Twitter]

Stats Behind Arlington’s Millennial Growth — The growth rate of Arlington’s millennial population between 2007 and 2013 was 82 percent, the highest in the nation. Meanwhile, development and transportation stats bear out how Arlington is growing and attracting young people. For instance, only 44 percent of Arlington’s population drives alone to work, compared to the 76.4 percent national average. [Bisnow]

Conservative Reporter vs. Donut Store Employee — Ashley Rae Goldenberg, a reporter for the conservative Media Research Center who goes by the Twitter handle @Communism_Kills, says she was harassed on Twitter by an employee of the new Dunkin’ Donuts store in Virginia Square. [Twitter]

Bomb Threat at Rosslyn BuildingUpdated at 11:15 a.m. — Someone called 911 with a bomb threat against an office building on the 1100 block of Wilson Blvd Thursday evening. That is the same block as TV station WJLA (ABC 7). No explosives were found during a police search of the building. [Patch, Arlington County]

Teen Provides Art to the Formerly Homeless — Allison Stocks, a 15-year-old sophomore at Yorktown High School, founded a nonprofit that takes donations of art and then provides it to those “making the transition from homeless shelters into permanent housing,” thus helping to cover bare walls and make their new home feel more homey. [Washington Post]

Local Gamer Raises Money for Hurricane Relief — In the wake of hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, local resident Scott Jones helped raise more than $1,700 for disaster relief by broadcasting a 24-hour video game marathon from his Arlington apartment. Jones is one of numerous gamers who have used their gaming skills to raise serious cash for charitable causes. [Los Angeles Times]

Sports Pub Employees to Stand During Anthem — Late last week the Crystal City Sports Pub (529 23rd Street S.) sent a press release to broadcast outlets saying that its employees would “stand united for the national anthem” during Sunday’s football games. [WJLA]

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Since 2013, Arlington’s chronic homelessness rate has dropped 64 percent, and it was the second community in the nation able to claim to have ended veteran homelessness.

This is no accident, officials say: it’s because of the county’s “housing first” model.

“A long time ago… the thought was you need to get someone ready to move into housing — and that has been completely debunked,” said Kathy Sibert, the president/CEO of nonprofit A-SPAN, which works to end homelessness in the county. “What you want to do is get people into housing and stabilized.”

This approach is part of Arlington’s “10 Year Plan to End Homelessness,” which was launched in 2008. The plan aims to ensure that no person or family lacks an adequate and affordable home.

“We try to get to the root causes of homelessness so that we can build the person up to a stable place where they can not only just get housing but maintain it for a longer time,” said Kurt Larrick, assistant director at the county’s Department of Human Services.

Arlington did see a slight increase in homelessness for 2017. In 2016, there were 174 homeless people, and in 2017 that number jumped to 232. However, Sibert said homelessness “ebbs and flows,” which she said helps t0 explain the uptick.

Once somebody is housed, Sibert said, it is much easier to work on their challenges. If they have substance-abuse problems or mental illness, authorities know where they live and can easily set up appointments for them.

Getting a job is much easier once a person is housed, too. Rather than spending each day waking up on the street, schlepping across the county to get breakfast, wandering somewhere else to take a shower, then trekking elsewhere to find clean clothes, when a person is housed they can do all those things in an hour, making it much more feasible for them to become employed.

“To get everything done that you [typically do] in one hour to go to work takes all day [for them],” Sibert said.

The Homeless Services Center in Courthouse, which opened in 2015 in an aging office building, was designed to help homeless individuals do all those things in one location, making it the first place of its kind in the D.C. metropolitan area.

The center has 50 year-round shelter beds, five medical respite beds, 25 extra beds in the winter, employment and life skills training programs, art classes, a full-time nurse practitioner, mental illness and substance-abuse counselors, showers, laundry and mail facilities, free meals three times a day and more.

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Morning Notes

World of Beer Gets Rebranded — The Ballston location of World of Beer is no longer part of the chain and has instead been rebranded as “Crafthouse.” The restaurant — along with former WoB locations in Fairfax and Reston — is now offering a full menu of American craft fare and a drink menu that includes local beers, bourbons, whiskey, wine and other spirits. [Reston Now]

County’s Stance on Rising Homeless Population — Via an Arlington County press release: “We believe that the increase in Arlington’s numbers this year do not reflect the long-term trend in our County,” said Arlington County Board Vice Chair Katie Cristol. “Since 2008, when we launched the 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness, Arlington has cut its number of homeless persons by more than half. We’ve made great strides in housing veterans and chronically homeless individuals and families.” [Arlington County]

Metro Changes Next Month — Starting June 25, Metrorail’s operating hours are being shortened while rail and bus fares are increasing, rush hour rail frequency is decreasing and some bus routes are being discontinued. [WMATA]

Freddie’s Named Top Brunch Spot — Freddie’s Beach Bar and Restaurant, a gay bar in Crystal City that hosts a Broadway brunch on Saturdays and a Champagne brunch on Sundays, has been named one of the 100 best brunch spots in America by OpenTable. [OpenTable]

Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley

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