Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.
AFAC—the Arlington Food Assistance Center—is one of these organizations.
AFAC is a non-profit founded over 20 years ago to distribute food and groceries to Arlington residents who cannot afford to purchase enough food to meet their basic needs. Any family seeking such assistance must have a referral from a local church, school, social service agency, or Arlington County government agency.
AFAC currently serves approximately 1,600 families. About 40 percent of its clients are children. Among these are homeless children. The Arlington Public School system estimates that there are as many as 300 homeless children attending schools in the County at any one time. They live in transient housing, often with no food or kitchens available. Their main meal of the day is at the school they attend.
The other main categories of AFAC’s clients include:
- elderly residents with high medical expenses
- those with mental or emotional disabilities
- eligible applicants for food stamps who have not yet begun to receive them
- those suffering from illness or disability who lack sick leave employment benefits
AFAC depends on different kinds of volunteer assistance to sustain its programs. In 2012, volunteers provided AFAC with over 25,000 hours of their time. This saved AFAC at least $500,000 in staffing costs, and enabled AFAC to direct these savings to help eligible families. Organizing food drives, and encouraging other Arlington organizations to become AFAC community partners, are two of the principal ways in which to volunteer.
AFAC organizes and administers a series of genuine safety net programs, helping needy individuals and families avoid hunger when they truly have no other viable option.
To learn more about AFAC, and how you might be able to help, visit www.afac.org.
Peter Rousselot is a member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.
(Updated at 3:50 p.m.) The number of homeless individuals in Arlington County increased 6 percent between 2012 and 2013, but the homeless population is still lower than it was in 2010, according to a newly-released study.
The annual Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments homelessness report revealed that the homeless count in Arlington increased from 451 in 2012 to 479 in 2013. During that same period, the Washington region saw a 2.4 percent decrease in its homeless population, led by a 22 percent drop in Alexandria, a 12 percent drop in Fairfax County, and a 1 percent drop in the District of Columbia.
Arlington’s homeless population had decreased the past two years, from a peak of 531 homeless individuals in 2010. This year, Arlington has the second highest homelessness ratio — 2.2 homeless persons per 1,000 residents — of any local jurisdiction except D.C., where there are 10.9 homeless persons per 1,000 residents.
Arlington’s latest homeless count was performed on January 30, 2013.
The rise in the local homeless population is happening despite Arlington’s 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness, which was first published in 2006. That plan includes supportive services and rental assistance for homeless individuals, and the opening of the new homeless shelter and services center in Courthouse.
Other vital statistics about Arlington’s homeless population from the MWCOG study include:
- Arlington has 70 homeless families, comprised of 88 adults and 123 kids
- There are 14 homeless veterans in Arlington, down from 24 in 2012
- There were 198 homeless individuals placed in permanent housing in fiscal year 2012
- There were 49 disabled homeless individuals placed in permanent supportive housing in fiscal year 2012
- The number of “chronically homeless” individuals is down from 175 in 2012 to 156 in 2013
- The numbers of homeless individuals classified with chronic substance abuse problems and severe mental illness are 99 and 45, respectively
“The great news is in the County’s success with chronically homeless individuals, where we went from 175 to 156,” said Arlington Dept. of Human Services spokesman Kurt Larrick, in an email sent Thursday afternoon. “These are the people living on the street who are at risk of dying if they don’t get help. This is the target population for our 100 Homes initiative, and we are really pleased with the results to date of getting these Arlingtonians off the street and into stable housing.”
“The Point-in-Time is one lens for looking at the state of homelessness and it gives us some good information,” Larrick continued. “We have other lenses that provide more depth and breadth. What they are showing us is that moving people quickly into housing and providing necessary supports is what results in the best outcomes. Programs like Permanent Supportive Housing and Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing use this strategy. And that will be a key strategy at the new Homeless Services Center when it opens in late 2014. With its year-round beds and on-site services, the new center will greatly enhance our ability to get people on the path to stable housing.”
Arlington Homeless Population Increases — Despite a decline of 2.4 percent across most of the region, Arlington’s homeless population rose by six percent between 2012 and 2013. The figures were gathered during the annual homeless census on January 30. The county’s new homeless count stands at 479 people, up from 451 the previous year. [Sun Gazette]
Streetcar Cost/Benefit Test — An article criticizing Libby Garvey’s op-ed in the Washington Post contends streetcars do indeed pass the cost/benefit test, contrary to Garvey’s thoughts. The author favors a streetcar to buses based on points such as the streetcar having a greater passenger capacity, faster rate of travel and bringing more development to the area. [Greater Greater Washington]
Raise the Roof Service Project — The Arlington Teen Network Board has teamed up with Rebuilding Together Arlington/Fairfax/Falls Church for a service project called “Raise the Roof.” Tomorrow (April 27), volunteers will begin repairing the Borromeo Housing, Inc. group house, which is a transitional home for teen moms and their children. Volunteers are collecting money to continue with the next phase of the service project, which involves a facelift of the interior and exterior of the home. Those interested in contributing can do so through the project website.
Police Seek Tips in Two Theft Incidents — The Arlington County Police Department is seeking the public’s assistance in finding suspects involved in two separate theft incidents. The first incident involved shoplifting at South Moon Under (2700 Clarendon Blvd) on March 1. Suspect descriptions are available online, along with contact information for reporting tips. The second case involves tracking down persons of interest in the theft of a victim’s wallet. The victim’s credit cards have since been used around the area. Suspect information and contact information for reporting tips for that crime can also be found on the police department website.
Senior Citizens Tour Sewage Plant — A group of three dozen senior citizens toured Arlington’s recently-renovated Water Pollution Control Plant on Friday. The sold-out tour educated the seniors about the sewage treatment process and about the people who work at the plant, whose “informal motto” is “We’re No. 1 with your No. 2.” [Sun Gazette]
Technology and the Homeless — Contrary to a common image of the homeless, most homeless individuals in Arlington have a cell phone and some even have laptops. Such technology is described as a “lifeline” to family, job opportunities and education. [Patch]
Map of the ‘Arlington Loop’ — Arlington County’s Bike Arlington program has published an easy-to-use map of the “Arlington Loop” — the 50 miles of off-street bike trails in the county. The map includes approximate ride times for bicyclists. [Bike Arlington, Greater Greater Washington]
Photo courtesy Chris Armstrong
The local Point-in-Time Count is part of a nationwide count that occurs during the last 10 days in January each year. The census helps to highlight trends, justify requests for federal funding and measure community progress towards preventing and ending homelessness.
Last year, the Point-in-Time count of both sheltered and unsheltered homeless people dropped to 451. That’s down two percent from 461 in 2011.
“In this ‘great recession,’ the number of homeless people in Arlington has actually been trending downward for the last three years,” said A-SPAN Executive Director Kathleen Sibert. “Arlington non-profits and the county have done a great job of connecting people with housing; and we hope this year’s count will be even lower now that the 100 Homes Campaign has already housed 47 homeless adults.”
From 6:00 a.m.-11:00 p.m. todady, census teams will visit areas frequented by homeless individuals such as Metro stations, parks, malls and meal serving sites. Additionally, there are six indoor meeting places used for the count, and meals are served to encourage participation. Staff members will also distribute hygiene kits and socks donated by Marymount Women’s Basketball team.
“Survey questions go beyond headcounts and ask about instances of domestic abuse, veteran status, and disabilities in order to learn more about the specific homeless population in Arlington and what resources are needed,” said Sibert.
The annual report for Arlington’s 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness was presented to the County Board yesterday (Tuesday). It showed that 708 individuals used Arlington homeless shelters at some time in 2012, which is a six percent increase over 2011. However, the average length of time a person stayed in shelter decreased by 28 percent. The average stay for homeless families showed the most significant improvement, dropping from an average stay of 5.4 months to three months.
“The goal of the 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness is that no individual or family lack access to decent, affordable housing,” said County Board Chairman Walter Tejada. “That is a tall order in these troubled economic times, but this report, the progress we are making in housing Arlington’s most-at-risk homeless persons who were identified last year, and the County’s many programs aimed at getting those in need into housing shows that we intend to meet that goal.”
Since April, a single-family house at 3704 2nd Street S. has been operating as a low-barrier group home for four (4) adults with mental illnesses transitioning from homelessness. New Hope Housing, the Alexandria-based nonprofit that operates the dormitory, has been seeking a use permit to increase the maximum number of adults housed at the dormitory to six (6).
The use permit request drew criticism from neighbors at Saturday’s Arlington County Board meeting.
Residents told the Board that there was a lack of supervision and communication from the nonprofit for the first 4-5 months that the group home — called Susan’s Place — was in operation. Several neighbors described residents of the shelter cursing and spitting at them as they walked by, a resident who sat in a broken chair in the front yard talking to himself until midnight, and other disturbances. Residents and neighborhood representatives said neighbors were not notified that the group home would be opening, and didn’t know who to contact with concerns.
New Hope Housing Executive Director Pamela Michell told the Board that the problems went uncorrected for several months because a key staff member was on an extended personal leave, working on a master’s degree in social work. She said the organization typically doesn’t give neighbors a heads up when they open a new group home because of fair housing laws, but called that a mistake in retrospect.
“There was a lack of communication,” she admitted. “We did not come and talk to the neighborhood. That was obviously a mistake.”
Still, Michell said the organization was not aware of any problems during the first few months the group home was open. She said a staff person was on-site during that time, and disputed the assertion of neighbors that they made a reasonable effort to voice concerns about resident behavior.
“Frankly, no one knocked on our door and said there was a concern,” Michell said. “Since the staff person didn’t observe it and since nobody complained, we didn’t know there was something that needed to be addressed.”
In a letter to county staff, the Alcova Heights Citizens Association said they only obtained information about New Hope Housing when an attorney for the organization contacted them seeking support for expansion of the group home. The first meeting between neighbors and New Hope staff took place on Aug. 14.
“This appears to be a lapse in management,” County Board member Jay Fisette said to Michell. “You guys did something wrong.”
Fisette and other Board members were swayed, however, by accounts that problems with the group home have largely been corrected since that meeting. They were also supportive of conditions for the use permit agreed to by New Hope Housing, including 24-hour on-site supervision, a neighborhood liaison who can be reached by phone by residents, an administrative review after 5 months and a County Board review in 9 months.
“Because it has improved… I think this is going to work,” Fisette said. “Six people, five people or four doesn’t really matter. It’s the management issues around it.”
Fisette also noted that many of the residents who expressed concerns about the group home also expressed support for New Hope’s overall mission to help the homeless.
The Board approved the use permit by a 5-0 vote.
Board member Chris Zimmerman echoed Board Chair Mary Hynes in commending the “vital function in our community” that nonprofits like New Hope play in helping to combat homelessness.
Photo via Google Maps
Arlington Small Business Saturday — This holiday weekend, in addition to today’s traditional Black Friday shopping bonanza, Arlington residents will be able to participate in “Arlington Small Business Saturday.” The day encourages Arlingtonians to shop and dine at small, local businesses this weekend. “Your favorite retail, dining and online small businesses are participating and providing discounts or incentives on a variety of products and services,” according to organizers.
Retirement Ceremony for Therapy Dog — Bailey, a therapy dog at the Capital Hospice Halquist Center near Virginia Hospital Center, is retiring after 10 years of service to those who have life-limiting illnesses. A private retirement ceremony will be held for Bailey, a golden retriever, at the hospice center on Monday night. “Cider, special Goldrush brownies and dog treats will be served,” according to an online invitation.
Library Recovers from Database Crash — The electronic catalog and accounts system for Arlington Public Library and Arlington Public Schools is back up and running after crashing last Friday. “We are very pleased to report that our system is back online, along with research databases, and that most if not all data feared lost has been recovered and restored,” the library said on its web site. “Your privacy was never compromised. We are taking steps to prevent such an outage from happening again.” [Arlington Public Library]
Homeless Navy Vet Gets Apartment — Ernest Maas, a 61-year-old Navy veteran, is giving thanks this Thanksgiving weekend for the roof over his head. Maas got the keys to a new apartment in Arlington on Wednesday after spending the past three years homeless and living in the woods around Four Mile Run. The new apartment was coordinated by the Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network. [WJLA]
Arlington Hotels: Tax Us, Please — The Hotel General Managers’ Committee of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce and the Arlington Tourism Coalition are hoping to lobby the Virginia General Assembly to reinstate the county’s hotel tax surcharge. The 0.25 percent tax on hotel rooms in Arlington generated nearly $1 million per year that went to tourism promotion efforts. State lawmakers declined to renew the tax last year in retaliation for Arlington’s fight against HOT lanes on I-395. [Sun Gazette]
The Arlington County Board unanimously approved the $27 million purchase of the building in Courthouse at its meeting on Saturday (November 17). As of today’s closing, the county officially owns the property.
County staff will hold a series of public meetings regarding the acquisition to solicit input on certain physical and operational aspects about the property, including issues regarding the homeless shelter. The first will be held at Key Elementary School (2300 Key Blvd) on December 5, from 7:00-9:30 p.m. The other meetings, also from 7:00-9:30 p.m. at Key Elementary School, are scheduled to take place on December 17 and January 14. The county’s final plans will be presented at the January meeting.
The county will also be accepting input on parts of the project via its virtual town hall meeting website.
(Updated at 11:25 a.m.) At its meeting on Saturday, Nov. 17, the County Board unanimously approved the controversial acquisition of an office building (2020 14th Street N.) in Courthouse that will house county offices and a homeless shelter.
The shelter, which will occupy two of the building’s seven floors, will be open year-round and will replace the current emergency winter shelter, located about two blocks away. Like the winter shelter, it will be operated by the Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network (A-SPAN).
“Arlington is making good on its declaration that in this county, every person is important” said County Manager Barbara Donnellan. “It’s not enough to merely provide beds in an inadequate emergency winter shelter during the coldest months of the year. It is not enough just to keep the homeless alive. We want to give them an opportunity to rebuild their lives.”
County staff recommended the Board approve the deal, because they found that particular building to be most suitable for county offices and storage. Staff members also said they found a portion of the building adequate for renovating into a homeless shelter, to replace the emergency winter shelter located at 2049 15th Street N.
County staff had been working to reach a purchase agreement with the property owner since November 2010, and last year the County Manager was authorized to acquire the property for $25.5 million by purchase or eminent domain. The price finalized at the Board meeting on Saturday was more than $27 million. Staff said although the cost is greater than the county’s appraisal, it’s less than the seller’s appraisal.
More than a dozen people took turns speaking to the Board about the controversial issue, both in favor of and against the building purchase.
Kip Laramie, who owned Santa Fe Cafe (1500 Wilson Blvd) in Rosslyn, said he hasn’t had trouble with homeless people at any of his businesses in Arlington throughout the years. He likes the idea of helping homeless people and giving them a place to go.
“The homeless population was much lower when the emergency winter shelter is open than when it’s closed,” Laramie said. “It would be nice to have that year round lower level of people on the streets.”
Safety was a concern of many residents who live near the shelter.
“I don’t care if my property values go down, what I care about are people outside of my building threatening the safety of my wife and my daughter,” said Nathan Kleekam. Supporters of the homeless shelter argued that the shelter’s location — directly across from Arlington police headquarters — will actually improve safety. Also, they say, A-SPAN has done a good job of addressing safety concerns with the existing shelter.
Another topic of concern was the financial impact of the county purchasing the property.
“I’m not necessarily against the homeless shelter. I do think $25 million in order to build the homeless shelter is quite a lot of money, considering that Arlington County is having a very difficult time building enough schools to educate its children,” Kleekam said.
One common theme that emerged was that neighbors did not feel the county had taken adequate steps to work with them throughout the entire process. Some residents said the county did not do a good job of notifying them about meetings regarding the building purchase.
At its meeting next Saturday (November 17), the Board will examine the purchase contract for the building (2020 14th St. N.), which has an expected purchase price of $27.1 million. County staff estimates the total project cost at approximately $42 million over five years, factoring in additional costs for design, renovation, and tenant relocation.
As far as funding for the project, the county said the following in a press release:
Includes $20 million of revenue bonds issued through the Arlington County Industrial Development Authority (IDA), $12 million of previously approved Pay-As-You-Go (PAYG) funding, and $6 million from Fiscal Year 2012 close-out funds. In approving the property acquisition, the County Board will also be asked to approve a temporary loan of $20 million from the Utilities Fund PAYG account to the General Fund PAYG account. This will be a temporary “bridge” loan, which will be reimbursed by the issuance of IDA revenue bonds. Funding for the $4 million in out-year costs is not proposed for County Board action at this time. Staff will request these funds once floors 4-7 of the building are available and renovations can take place.
If the measure is approved, the county expects to acquire title to the property at a closing on November 20. More information about the project is available on its website.
More from the county’s press release:
Acquiring 2020 14th St. N. will help the County government meet immediate space needs and provide the flexibility needed to support growing community needs. For ease of public access and efficiency, it is important that the County government’s office space and staff be located in the Courthouse area, which is the center of County government operations.
If the County Board approves the County’s acquisition of the property at 2020 14th Street N., County staff will host a series of public discussions and workshops to solicit input on certain physical and operational aspects of the property, including elements relating to the homeless services center.
Community dialogue: The first meeting is scheduled for Dec. 5, 2012, 7-9:30 p.m. at Key Elementary School. At this session, County staff will be listening to community questions and concerns. The result of this initial session will be community-generated input, ideas and preferences that County staff and building designers can use during the design and operational planning phases of the project.
Workshop: At the second meeting, an interactive workshop scheduled for Dec. 17, 2012 (7-9:30 p.m.) at Key Elementary, participants will be able to review draft building and operational plans, which will incorporate input from the first meeting. Participants will have the opportunity to provide further suggestions at that meeting.
Design review: The third meeting, scheduled for Jan. 14, 2013 (7-9:30 p.m.) at Key Elementary, will include a presentation of the County’s final plans.
Concurrent with these meetings, the County will solicit input on aspects of the project through its PLACE/OpenArlington online virtual town hall meeting website.
The project timeline is expected to include a Planning Commission hearing and a Use Permit hearing before the County Board in spring 2013.
Man Saves Life of Granddaughter — A grandfather saved the life of his granddaughter on Sunday, after the little girl started choking on fruit inside her family’s Arlington home. The grandfather, Rick Corbett, used his CPR training from the Boy Scouts in order to help save her life. [WUSA 9]
County Still Trying to Buy Courthouse Building — Arlington County is in negotiations to purchase the 1960s-era office building at 2020 14th Street N. The potential purchase sparked controversy among neighbors, largely due to the plan to place a year-round homeless shelter on the building’s lower floors. [Sun Gazette]
Tech Event Tonight at Artisphere — The technology networking organization Tech Cocktail is holding a mixer and startup showcase tonight at Artisphere (1101 Wilson Blvd). Last-minute tickets for the event, which runs from 6:30 to 9:00 p.m., are $20. [Tech Cocktail]
Homeless children from a shelter in Arlington will be donating more than $500 to the Special Olympics this afternoon.
The children live in Sullivan House, a shelter for homeless families in Clarendon run by the Arlington-Alexandria Coalition for the Homeless. Together with parents, volunteers, and AACH staff, thirteen children between the ages of five and 13 ran a lemonade stand outside the shelter throughout the summer. They raised just over $1,000, according to AACH Lauren Marigot Barth.
“They learned about customer service, managing money, and marketing,” Barth said. “They also did a really good job!”
The children voted to donate half of the money raised to the Special Olympics. A representative from the organization — which organizes athletic competitions for children and adults with intellectual disabilities — will be on hand at Sullivan House this afternoon to officially receive the donation.
The rest of the money will help to fund a trip to Busch Gardens.
Photos courtesy Arlington-Alexandria Coalition for the Homeless
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
Civic Federation Budget Proposal — The Arlington County Civic Federation has unanimously approved its own vision for the county’s budget. The Civic Federation’s budget proposal would hold the current real estate tax rate steady, while providing more money for schools and public safety, funding an inspector general position and eliminating 16 long-vacant county government positions. The Civic Federation also voted 30-12 for a motion calling on the county to close Rosslyn’s Artisphere by the end of the year unless significant progress is made in turning around the struggling cultural center’s finances. [Sun Gazette]
Streetcar Stalemate with Alexandria — Arlington County’s plan to build a streetcar line from Crystal City to Potomac Yard is facing resistance from Alexandria. While Arlington has financing for the streetcar lined up, Alexandria says they don’t have the money for a streetcar line — and would like the planned Crystal City/Potomac Yard transit corridor to remain a bus rapid transit system for the foreseeable future. [WAMU]
Thousands Sign Up for Housing Aid — Arlington County opened up its waiting list for federal Section 8 housing assistance for one day, after keeping the list closed for the past seven years. In that one day the county received 5,300 pre-applications from those seeking rent assistance. [Patch]
Fund Set Up to House the Homeless — The Arlington Community Foundation has announced a $500,000 private gift that will allow it to create a new fund for the 100 Homes campaign against homelessness. With a $500,000 match from Arlington County, the $1 million public/private partnership will be “dedicated to housing Arlington’s most vulnerable citizens.” [Arlington Community Foundation]
The grant — one of the $2.1 million in grants awarded by HUD in Virginia — will help A-SPAN and its “Open Doors” program provide housing and case management for six chronically homeless adults in Arlington over the next year. A-SPAN currently provides housing and case management for 24 chronically homeless adults who suffer from mental illness and/or substance abuse.
“The clients we will house are those that have been homeless for many years and have been diagnosed with a mental illness and other severe health problems,” A-SPAN Executive Director Kathleen Sibert said in a press release. “Despite those difficulties, we’ve shown that these clients can be successful, but they are our most vulnerable neighbors. Helping them get into housing is our main goal and what we’re working toward with the 100 Homes for 100 Homeless Arlingtonians Campaign.”