It’s 4 a.m. on Wednesday, the third and last day of what organizers dubbed “registry week.” In 2008, Fairfax County, the second wealthiest jurisdiction in the nation, adopted a 10-year plan to try to end homelessness among its residents. It has since made steady progress getting families into permanent housing, but success among single, chronically homeless adults has been far harder. That population, estimated to be at least several hundred people, is slowly rising, according to the county.
So Fairfax is trying something new. This summer, along with a handful of local nonprofit organizations, the county signed on to a national campaign called 100,000 Homes, run by the New York-based group Community Solutions. The campaign targets the chronically homeless, with a national goal of housing 100,000 of them by July 2014. So far, according to Community Solutions, the movement has housed more than 35,000 people in the 185 jurisdictions that have joined since 2010.
What sets 100,000 Homes apart, its advocates say, is an approach that offers permanent housing first, not last, bolstered by supportive services. Rather than imposing conditions on housing such as sobriety or employment, the campaign’s model quickly provides a stable place to live, not just a shelter bed. Then it encourages recipients to make their own choices to get jobs or treatment.
The first step is always registry week, during which trained volunteers led by county and nonprofit organization employees build a detailed database that includes photographs and personal information on as many chronically homeless people as they can find. In Fairfax last week, that meant more than 200 volunteers fanning out to winter shelters and hiking into wooded areas behind multimillion-dollar homes to take the pictures and conduct in-depth interviews — an undertaking vastly different than a traditional point-in-time homeless census that only counts bodies.
Once the information is organized, agencies will prioritize the people they met based on medical vulnerability. Then they will try to get each person housed.
Meeting their neighbors
After breaking into teams of five and six, the volunteers set out. The people who will go to the campsite near Bulova’s house pile into a white van. They’re led by Amanda Andere and Lisa Thompson, both of whom work for Facets, a Fairfax nonprofit organization that provides food and shelter. Other members of the team include a retiree, a college student and an Army veteran who used to be homeless.