Fairfax County Board Chairman John F. Herrity said yesterday that the county may be able to provide only one of two proposed shelters for the homeless for this winter.
Herrity's statement followed a charge by the Rev. Vin A. Harwell, pastor of the Mount Vernon Presbyterian Church, that the county was planning to renege on its promise to put a shelter in the Rte. 1 corridor south of Alexandria.
For the last two years, a group of 15 churches there has provided emergency shelter for as many as 70 homeless people a night during the winter months.
This year, however, the group says it has no intention of taking the homeless into their churches.
"We've done this the last two years," said Harwell, spokesman for Mount Vernon Emergency Shelters Inc. "We simply aren't in a position to do it again."
Harwell said there are several county facilities, including three schools that have been closed and a former police station, that would be suitable for a shelter, but that the county has excluded them because of political considerations.
"We can't understand why the homeless should have to stay in churches where there are no showers and that weren't built to accommodate them when there are so many other buildings that could be used," Harwell said.
Fairfax officials said they are doing their best to find a shelter for this winter. But, they say, they will not bring a shelter into a neighborhood over vehement citizen opposition.
"There are a lot of people who are legitimately very concerned about the health and welfare of the homeless. There are a lot of people who are also very concerned about the welfare of the residents who live in these neighborhoods," said T. Ferrell Egge, the supervisor representing the Mount Vernon district.
In June the Fairfax Board of Supervisors approved more than $700,000 to fund two homeless shelters in the county, one in the Baileys Crossroads area, the other in Mount Vernon.
Although officials said the Baileys Crossroads facility should be ready by winter, there have been snags in the effort to place a shelter in Mount Vernon.
According to Verdia Haywood, deputy county executive for Fairfax, several locations have been considered and rejected because of inadequate space and citizen concerns.
Haywood says he is confident a permanent refuge, maintained by the county but staffed with church volunteers, will be established on federal land at Fort Belvoir Army base, but a temporary location still has not been found for this winter.
Harwell said the Fort Belvoir location -- away from the most populous sections of the Rte. 1 corridor and not served by public transit -- would be inaccessbile to many in Fairfax's homeless population, which officials said averages 400 people at any given time.
Haywood and others cite several practical reasons Harwell's suggestions are not acceptable. They also said that problems with the Fort Belvoir site can be worked out.
"I'll be the first to admit it's not perfect," Haywood said, "but there are several options for improving it."
But officials are unabashed in saying that one of the attractive things about Fort Belvoir is its distance from established neighborhoods.
"That's one of its primary advantages: it's not in everyone's back yard . . . . If we can find a site that's away from the neighborhoods we should use it. And we've found it," Egge said.