Bathing, Washing Clothes Not Allowed at Shelter, Officials Say
Friday, July 21, 2006
Fairfax City officials have told the Lamb Center, one of Northern Virginia's only daytime homeless shelters, that it is operating illegally because it offers showers and laundry facilities to its clients.
Representatives of Truro Episcopal Church, which runs the center from a converted car radio repair shop on Old Lee Highway near Fairfax Circle, were told at a meeting with city officials last week that the center is violating zoning laws for office and commercial areas. The rules allow a counseling center, but city officials say that activity at Lamb has gone beyond what is permitted.
For the moment, the city is not moving to close the center. But City Manager Robert L. Sisson did not rule out that possibility.
"The city will continue to review its options in this," Sisson said.
City and church officials have been at odds for months over increased activity at the Lamb Center, which opened in 1992 above a pawnshop on what is now Fairfax Boulevard. What began as a place for spiritual guidance and job counseling has become an integral source of support for some of the area's homeless, especially those who work or are looking for employment. It is estimated that about a third of Fairfax County's approximately 2,000 homeless people hold jobs of some kind.
The cramped storefront has become so heavily frequented that it was forced to shut down for 48 hours last winter so that staffers could reorganize its operations.
Nearby businesses on Lee Highway have complained about the numbers of homeless people (usually about 50 or so, the church estimates) who go to the center each morning for a meal, a shower and access to phones and washing machines.
Showers and laundry have been part of the Lamb Center's program since 1992, and church representatives say they have been advised by their attorney that they are allowed under the zoning regulations. Moreover, they say that such features are essential.
"Employers won't hire dirty, smelly people," parish administrator Douglas LeMasters wrote to the city this year. "Likewise, a homeless person in a store, fast-food restaurant, library or other location is far less offensive if he or she has recently bathed. This is not just a service to Lamb Center guests but to the local community."
City zoning administrator Michelle Coleman said in a memo presented to church representatives last week that showers and laundry were never permitted and "were not fully disclosed" to city officials when the Lamb Center received a use permit.
She said that the center is a charitable institution, not a counseling center, and that showers and laundry had never been permitted at its current location.
Truro officials said yesterday that they are searching for a new location for the center but that the price of real estate has made that difficult.