Fairfax County Looks to Partnership to Help the Homeless
Homelessness is something Fairfax County realized it couldn’t solve alone, panelist Thomas Barnett, told the audience of business and community leaders at the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce, speaking about how the county’s Office to Prevent and End Homelessness (OPEH) and its coalition was founded eight years ago.
As homeless numbers spiked in Fairfax County – and across the country - those responsible for addressing homelessness saw there just was not enough affordable housing in the county to serve those in need. They realized they were managing -- but not solving -- the problem and they needed the integrated efforts of the nonprofit and business sectors – and they also recognized the need to include prevention – helping at risk families before they became homeless.
Barnett, who formed the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Partnership to Prevent and End Homelessness, said that prevention is possible through mediation on behalf of those at risk of becoming homeless. Prevention makes sense and is more cost-effective. He said 30-50% of income of many low-wage workers in Fairfax currently goes towards rent. On any given week, he noted, these families, facing a second job loss, illness, or a broken car, can be on the verge of homelessness.
Affordable housing is the key, Barnett said, adding it is essential to preserve low income housing in the county. OPEH is now in the 8th year of its 10 Year Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness. While homeless numbers have decreased yearly, Barnett noted, there are still over 1000 homeless, most working families, and a shortage of affordable housing.
The panel agreed that, unfortunately, stigma and prejudice remain part of the public perception on homeless people. In 2015 OPEH launched the Mannequin series, hoping to attract attention to the stories behind the homeless people seen every day in Fairfax. Many people turned away from the mannequins, reinforcing the Partnership’s view that prejudice remains.
Pat Kearns, Family PASS executive director, and other panelists told the audience that 66% of homeless are working homeless and 33% are children. These working homeless are the people who run area daycare centers, take care of senior citizens, and fill a host of other essential jobs that keep Fairfax County running. There are over 12,000 homeless in the greater DC area, with DC having the most homeless at 3,000 and Fairfax, one of the wealthiest counties in the country, second at 1059 out of seven surrounding counties.
Lack of affordable housing, a key factor in solving the problem of homelessness, led to the creation of the new Housing Opportunities Collaborative, a joint venture between Cornerstones, which provides housing and social services to the homeless, and OPEH to streamline recruitment of landlords, centralize housing location services, and train staff on housing. Abby Dunner, Housing Resource Coordinator for the Collaborative, said discussions to attract more housing includes a robust landlord incentive program.
Next Blog: Homeless Victims of Domestic Violence and Homeless Students in the Fairfax County School system.
(This program, sponsored by EAGLEBANK, was hosted and organized by Family PASS to inform and engage the business community in ending homelessness and to provide a snapshot of how the various members of the Community Partnership work in sync to end homelessness. The panelists, representing different aspects of the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Partnership to Prevent and End Homelessness’ work, talked about their organizations’ roles, from the broader County’s 10-Year Plan, to how homeless people enter the system, sheltered temporarily and finally how case managers work to house and provide the services needed that lead to having a home and financial self-sufficiency.)