Mobile Clinics Proposed For Homeless in Fairfax

Board Chairman Gerald E. Connolly, in a 2004 photo, remarked yesterday on the number of homeless people with health problems at a church-run shelter.
Board Chairman Gerald E. Connolly, in a 2004 photo, remarked yesterday on the number of homeless people with health problems at a church-run shelter. (By Larry Morris -- The Washington Post)
By Lisa Rein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Fairfax County board Chairman Gerald E. Connolly yesterday proposed a mobile medical clinic to serve homeless people who lead isolated lives outside the county's shelter system.

Connolly (D) said he recently toured a shelter run by one of the 17 churches that take turns providing emergency shelter for homeless people who normally shun county facilities. He said he was struck by the number of clients with health problems.

In county-run shelters, medical care is available through a pilot program. But homeless people who avoid the shelter system and live in the woods often have no contact with a doctor or nurse, even though many have severe medical problems. Homeless advocates say such people only occasionally go to the county's drop-in center to seek food, a hot shower and help with laundry. The drop-in facility is open only during the day.

"We've got to reach them," said Connolly, head of the Board of Supervisors.

In Fairfax, one of the nation's richest counties, the ranks of the homeless appear to be growing, fueled in part by the high cost of housing. In spite of a relatively mild winter, county shelters have been full, sparking the effort by churches to handle the overflow.

Connolly directed County Executive Anthony H. Griffin to come up with a plan for a mobile clinic that probably would operate once a week and be staffed by volunteer doctors, physician assistants and nurses. The clinic probably would travel to different parts of the county to reach a maximum number of patients, Connolly said. Griffin could include proposed funding for a clinic in his budget for fiscal 2007, officials said.

Fairfax offers health care to its low-income residents at several community health clinics. But advocates said yesterday that many of the homeless aren't likely to go to such clinics, which usually require appointments, paperwork and transportation to get to them.

"People need to maintain a calendar and know the dates of an appointment," said Linda Wimpey, chairman of the county's Council on Homelessness. "If you miss an appointment, it could be months before you can get another one."

Yet the health problems of the homeless -- including diabetes, heart problems and broken bones -- can be serious if not treated, officials said.

Also yesterday, the supervisors learned final details of a contract worth as much as $3 million to help run Fairfax's storm water management program.

Officials said the Department of Public Works and Environmental Services will award a contract to Tetra Tech EM Inc., an environmental consulting firm with offices in Reston, for as much as $1 million a year for three years. The firm will offer technical assistance to firms hired to study the county's storm water management program. The Board of Supervisors allocated $18 million last year to upgrade the program.

Supervisor Michael S. Frey (R-Sully) called the Tetra Tech contract "absolutely ridiculous" and said the county is "hiring a consultant to oversee a consultant." Frey said public works officials should instead specify in more detail what they want from each consultant's study.

Randy Barlett, the county's director of storm water management, said Tetra's role will be to provide "quality control and technical assistance" in what is "highly technical" work.

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