Fairfax Anticipates More Homelessness As Housing Costs Rise

By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 6, 2006

Homelessness in Fairfax, one of the country's most prosperous counties, is expected to increase this year, fueled primarily by a continued shortage of affordable housing, officials said yesterday.

Despite relatively mild temperatures in the new year, the five county-owned emergency shelters, which have about 265 beds for families and single adults, have been filled to capacity every night, according to the Fairfax Department of Family Services. A group of churches that stepped forward to provide additional shelter has had larger-than-expected groups, organizers said.

Although the results of an annual regional survey of the homeless population will not be available until March or April, officials said evidence shows that it is growing in Fairfax.

"Our homeless outreach workers are seeing more people on the street," said Diana Lotito, the department's homeless services manager. Officials also reported increased activity at the Lamb Center, a Christian outreach ministry that provides daytime services to the homeless and poor.

The number of homeless in the county has remained fairly constant, at 1,900 to 2,000 in the past four years, based on data compiled by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. The region's homeless census last year was 15,439, up from 14,537 in 2004, although part of that increase can be attributed to the addition of Frederick County to the survey.

In Fairfax, 17 churches are taking turns each week providing emergency shelter. The Hypothermia Response Program was launched by the county, the Lamb Center and another private nonprofit group, Fairfax Area Christian Emergency and Transitional Services Inc. (FACETS), after three homeless people died in the cold last winter.

Susan Lampshire, who helps administer the program for FACETS, said organizers expected 30 to 35 people a night, but the nightly census is 50 to 70. On Wednesday at St. Christopher's Episcopal Church in Springfield, about 60 people spent the night.

"The county is maxed out. There's not enough room at the inn, if you will," said Gerald Poje, a Vienna toxicologist and member of the FACETS board.

Lampshire added, however, that she doesn't necessarily agree that the county's homeless population is growing. She attributes the heavier load to increasing awareness of the hypothermia program, which targets single adults who, because of mental illness or drug or alcohol issues, have avoided county shelters. Some men who have been living in the woods, for example, are coming forward, she said.

Many of the homeless, both in county and church shelters, are employed but unable to afford housing in a county where the average value of a home has doubled since 2000, and other moderately priced rental housing has been converted into condominiums.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors allocated $18 million last year to preserve affordable homes and apartments, mostly by preventing their conversion to luxury housing.

Poje said the county needs to look seriously at increasing the stock of single rooms for rent to help single adults who are homeless.

Staff writer Mary Otto contributed to this report.

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