Arlington starts campaign to help end homelessness

September 21, 2011

As part of their 10-year plan to end homelessness, Arlington County officials announced this month the start of the “100 Homes Arlington” campaign to find housing for 100 of their most vulnerable citizens.

The county is one of four communities to participate in the statewide outreach campaign sponsored by the Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness to place a total of 1,000 homeless people into homes. The campaign is part of a national housing initiative to move 100,0000 of the most at-risk homeless people off the streets and into housing by July 2013.

Anita Friedman, a division chief for the county’s Department of Human Services, said using a housing-first approach without restrictions could help ease the mental or physical issues homeless people might come across.

“You’ve got to get into the house first so you take away the anxiety and pressure of being exposed and vulnerable,” Friedman said. “Then people are more willing to accept you working with them.”

Harold Fisher would agree.

For almost six months, Fisher, 42, said he slept at Bluemont Park because his pride would not allow him to accept help from anyone despite his ailing health. He has diabetes and sleep apnea.

Last month, a civic organization placed him in a one-bedroom apartment. He said having housing has provided some stability in his life.

“I don’t have to worry about someone sneaking up on me and stealing something,” he said. “I’m able to keep food for a long period of time without having to eat a lot of junk food [or] stuff that’s not good for me.”

According to a report by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, the county experienced an 11 percent increase in its homeless population from 2006 to 2010. About 530 Arlington County residents were homeless last year, the report said.

A three-day survey of the county’s homeless will be conducted next month, from Oct. 17 to 19, with the aid of volunteers. The survey will ask the homeless about their periods of homelessness, medical condition, substance abuse and criminal history.

Volunteers will be paired in teams and conduct interviews in areas where homeless people are most likely to find shelter outdoors. Some of those areas include the Rosslyn and East Falls Church Metro stations, under bridges and overpasses, dugouts at county baseball fields and outside of Arlington Central Library.

The data collected from the survey will rank participants based on those who are most likely to die while homeless and will be used for their immediate placement into available housing.

“Arlington is not immune from deaths in the street,” Friedman said.

Kathleen Sibert, executive director of Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network, said three deaths were linked to homelessness in the county last year. “We’ve been finding out there have been more,” she said.

The results from the survey will be released Oct. 21. Friedman said a person could be moved into a home within a month of the results being published.

More than 10,000 people have been placed in housing nationally by the 91 communities that participate. So far, only one person has been placed in Virginia since the campaign began in Richmond last month.

County officials said they would rely on their partnerships with developers to determine when housing becomes available. Because the county doesn’t have public housing, county officials often negotiate with developers to provide affordable housing units within a project.

Friedman said people are often unaware about the housing options available for the county’s poorest residents.

“The secret in Arlington is that you could be formerly homeless and end up in a luxury condo. And nobody knows,” she said.

For information on volunteer opportunities, visit www.100homesarlingtonva.org .

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