On a weekday afternoon, the Arlington Community Temporary Shelter is quiet. The handful of residents, many of them homeless families or victims of spouse abuse, must leave the shelter from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Those are the house rules.
"We have many rules which keep the house orderly," said Director Sheila Wolfe, whose small office is in a room behind the shelter kitchen. "We really have no more traffic than any group house. I think we could fit into any neighborhood."
But many residents in the small community of Maywood don't agree. Residents are trying to block a proposal to move the shelter from its current location in Ballston to a 4 1/2-bedroom house in Maywood.
"This (shelter) isn't like a group home," said Ned Nelf, president of the Maywood Association, which is composed of homeowners in the area. "It's like a commercial establishment, a motel. I understand the need for it but this just isn't the place to put it."
Under shelter rules, no one can remain at the shelter more than a week. Wolfe estimates 400 to 600 people use the shelter each year although only 11 can live there at any time. She said the shelter is staffed 24 hours a day and residents are screened over the telephone before being admitted. Residents pay what they can afford, Wolfe added, although the posted rate is $11 a night for an adult.
The shelter opened in 1979, when the board of directors began renting a modest, three-bedroom house from St. George's Episcopal Church in Ballston for $165 a month.
Wolfe said, however, the shelter board always has wanted to purchase a house for a permanent location. Almost a year ago a special committee began searching for a good-sized, modestly price house to buy.
Two months ago, the committee found the 4 1/2-bedroom Maywood house for $106,000. (It is against shelter policy to publish the address.) Wolfe said the board made a down payment on the vacant house and applied for a special permit from the county that would allow them to establish a group home at the site.
The shelter receives $57,240 from the county, according to county officials. The remainder of its $102,000 budget last fiscal year came from private donations and the United Way. County residents also donate food, furniture, toys and linen, according to Wolfe. The purchase price of the house would come from a special fund amassed from private donations and set aside for that purpose, she said.
Early last month, the Maywood Association voted 40 to 17 to oppose the shelter's relocation plans, and since then, another 49 residents have registered their opposition, according to association president Nelf.
Last week the County Planning Commission, swayed by neighborhood objections, voted 7 to 2 to recommend against allowing the shelter in Maywood. It was the first time the commission had rejected a group home application, according to county planner Robert Brosnan.
"Group homes are always going to be controversial so they are accepted despite protest," said Brosnan. "But in this case the neighbors convinced the commission that the shelter would be better suited in a transient area or a commercial area since it is only a temporary place for people to stay."
Brosnan said the county has about a dozen group homes, although most are for long-term residents instead of the transient population that uses the county shelter.
In outlining their opposition to the county shelter, Maywood residents told the Planning Commission they were concerned not only for their peace and quiet but for the health of a young boy who lives across the street from the proposed shelter site. Nelf said the boy has leukemia and cannot come into contact with anyone who might have an infectious disease.
"When you think about all the children that will be in and out of the home, it could be disastrous," said Nelf.
Neighbors also are concerned about the transient nature of the shelter and the possibility that residents might create disturbances in the neighborhood.
"People coming and going at all hours--and we understand the police have been called a number of times (to the Ballston site)--it would upset the neighbors," said Nelf.
Wolfe said the shelter staff called police for assistance four times last year in addition to calling for an ambulance four times. On two occasions, she said, police were asked to evict residents who refused to leave when their permitted stay was up and on another occasion were asked to remove an unruly woman. The fourth police call involved a man who was threatening his wife, who was living at the shelter at the time.
But Nelf countered that Maywood is the type of community where neighbors bound out of their houses when police are called.
"They talk about it for days afterwards," he said. "It's a big deal to us."
The matter now goes before the County Board, which is scheduled to vote on the proposal Saturday. The acting county manager has recommended that the application be approved.