Arlington County will open its first 24-hour homeless shelter for single men and women this week, the latest step in a multi-pronged effort to eradicate chronic homelessness in the county.
The $9.68 million, 50-bed facility is located in a seven-story office building near the Court House Metro station that will eventually also house county government agencies. Caseworkers will work with homeless clients at the shelter, where they will be able to receive job training and health-care services in addition to treatment for mental illness and substance abuse.
County officials say there is no comparable one-stop, 24-hour shelter and services center in the region; the nearest similar one, they said, is in New Jersey.
When the shelter was proposed four years ago, it generated a storm of opposition from residents of nearby condominium buildings, who said they feared loiterers lurking at their garage entrance and sexual predators accosting them as they walked two blocks to the Metro.
In response, Arlington officials formed a committee that included the leading critic of the shelter to try to address some of the most pressing concerns.
The county built an eight-foot wall to separate the closest condo building from the shelter’s back door. A security officer will patrol outside from 4 p.m. to midnight; security cameras will be continuously monitored; and the county will establish a direct phone line so neighbors can call if they see a problem that needs an immediate response.
Officials reassured residents that there will be no people lining up to get inside the facility, as the shelter will be open round-the-clock.
“The total level of opposition has been diminished,” said Kenneth Robinson, who as president of the Woodbury Heights condominium association and leader of the local civic association at first led the effort to block the shelter project.
Robinson said county officials are “making every effort in the world to calm things down. . . . They’re a little bit more listening to us than at the beginning, and they have sat down with us.”
The new shelter and emergency services center, on the second and third floors of 2020 14th St. North, directly overlooks the county’s police headquarters. It is operated by the nonprofit Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network (A-SPAN) and will open to clients on Thursday.
On a tour of the facility last week, A-SPAN president and chief executive Kathleen Sibert pointed out the 14 beds and lockers for women, 36 for men and five medical respite rooms that are reserved for homeless people who have been discharged from the hospital but need additional recovery time of up to a month. During extreme weather, Sibert said, an additional 25 to 30 people can sleep on mats that will be set up on the floor of a dining area.
Arlington has placed more than 300 chronically homeless people in permanent housing since 2011, using a rigorously organized, all-hands-on-deck approach to secure funding, affordable apartments and support services.
A-SPAN and other nonprofit groups also contract with the county to operate shelters for families and for homeless individuals with drug or alcohol dependencies.
Officials say there are now about 300 homeless people in the county, compared with more than 500 in 2010. While the problem is far worse in more populous neighboring jurisdictions, especially the District, county officials say finding housing for everyone in Arlington who needs it remains a top priority.
The new shelter will replace a winter-only nighttime shelter located two blocks away that was considered a temporary measure when it opened 20 years ago.
The year-round facility “is not the end game” either, Sibert said. “This is a bridge so people do not have to live on the streets. Our goal is to find permanent housing and to end homelessness.”
The new center has a full commercial kitchen, a “quiet room” with donated books, a classroom for job training and a medical examination room for a nurse practitioner to use.
The walls are painted in bright colors, and the bathrooms are tiled in cheerful hues.
Robinson, the civic association president, said more than 20 of the most adamant opponents of the shelter have sold their condos in his 170-unit building over the past four years — about double the normal rate. But sales prices have not dropped.
The center was completed within budget: $6.6 million for construction; $1.6 million for design and administrative costs; $692,000 for furnishings (not including the many that have been donated); and $792,000 to install an emergency generator.
The county purchased the building three years ago for $27.1 million and said at that time that an additional $15 million may be needed to renovate the office space.
The county has not yet determined which departments will move into the building or when that will happen.