Planners Envision Ending Homelessness in County

By Carol Morello
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 8, 2006

Ending homelessness in Fairfax County within a decade is an achievable goal, but it cannot be done by government alone.

That was the message at a homelessness summit yesterday attended by officials from the county, charities, religious groups and businesses.

The summit, sponsored by Freddie Mac and the Freddie Mac Foundation at its Tysons Corner office park, was a first step in an effort to which Fairfax has committed itself: creating shelter and opportunities for every homeless person in the county by 2016.

"Homelessness is a problem across the United States," said Gerald E. Connolly (D), chairman of the Board of Supervisors, in opening remarks. But in a county "where the median household income is $88,133 annually and six Fortune 500 companies sit in our back yard, we as a community actually have the resources to fix it."

According to a recent head count in the area, Fairfax has more than 2,000 homeless people living in parks, cars and shelters. In numbers, it is second only to the District in the region. More than half are families, including more than 700 children. Almost half the homeless adults surveyed have jobs but cannot afford housing.

Programs to assist the homeless cost $12 million to $13 million a year, including local, state and federal funds, said Verdia L. Haywood, deputy county executive.

Many advocates for the homeless believe more can be accomplished for less money -- barely one-fifth as much, said Bart Harvey, head of Enterprise Community Partners, a private foundation based in Columbia that focuses on solutions to homelessness. Nationwide figures put the cost of caring for one homeless person at $47,600 a year, largely because of expensive emergency room visits and uninsured hospital stays, he said. By building affordable housing and providing more efficient services, the cost could be reduced to $9,000 a person, he said.

"People understand the economics of it," he said, adding with a sigh: "Then they say, 'Let's do it, but don't put it next to me.' "

This year, the Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution vowing to end homelessness in a decade. Connolly said that no cost estimate has been made for meeting that objective. A committee appointed to study the issue is expected to make recommendations to the board this summer.

Calling it both noble and economically wise to find solutions, Connolly said, "If we're successful, we'll be able to spend less in tax money 10 years from now than we are today."

About 300 people attended the lunch session, where a buffet offered prime rib, potatoes, salad, fruit, cheesecake and bottled water.

One of the guests was William Olds, 54, who has been living in a homeless shelter near Fort Belvoir since he lost his job as an insurance claims adjuster in 2003. He had been sharing a townhouse with roommates, but the owner died and the heir sold the property, leaving Olds without a home, he said.

Olds said he was invited to the summit by a county official who visited the outreach center where Olds goes to seek job interviews and training.

He said he does not expect homelessness to end, but it can be diminished.

"There still will be people who fall between the cracks," he said. "A lot of people are just one paycheck away from being homeless, especially with the cost of housing in Fairfax. I was."

Asked what he thought about the 10-year horizon, he said, "Ten years is a bit long. I'd like to have someplace to live now."

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