Chairman Sharon Bulova Addresses Homelessness

Feb. 8, 2011

I count among my friends and neighbors members of the Congress, U.S. Senators and people who live in the woods. This is about the latter, the people whose numbers show up in our annual point-in-time count of individuals and families who are unsheltered, living outdoors in tents or in their cars. 

There aren’t that many. Fairfax County has a population of over a million. Living among us are about 1,500 people who are literally homeless. 

Who are they? Our survey shows that more than 60 percent of the adults in families that are homeless were employed. 60 percent of single individuals who are homeless suffer from serious mental illness and/or substance abuse. Many have chronic health problems and/or physical disabilities. The reason that close to 30 percent of the families are homeless is because of incidents of domestic violence. 

Not long ago, I spoke with a man living in the woods. My friend shares a camp with two other men. He is a Vietnam War veteran. He ended up homeless after his marriage fell apart and he lost his job. There may have been other things going on in his life that he didn’t share with me. By his own admission, he “hasn’t fallen low enough” yet to want to be helped. Sometimes he is able to find odd jobs that provide him with a small income for food and batteries to power his radio.

People who are homeless, like my friend, are especially visible, and vulnerable, during these winter months. For the past seven years, local faith communities, businesses and nonprofit organizations have partnered with the Fairfax County Government to prevent hypothermia deaths. In addition to the county’s homeless shelters, space is provided in churches, synagogues and mosques. Thousands of volunteers leverage county resources to provide food, shelter and warmth on cold nights. Eventually, though, the county and our faith-based partners recognized that these efforts were only putting a band-aid on the problem of homelessness.

What are we doing so that Fairfax County is not a place where people beg on the streets, live in piles of bedding on the sidewalks or in tents hidden in the woods?

In 2007, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors adopted a goal to end homelessness in 10 years. We adopted a community developed Implementation Plan the following year. Since then a Governing Board and a small county office were established to coordinate efforts among our private partners. 

At today’s Board of Supervisors meeting, we learned that since establishing our goal, the population of persons who are homeless in Fairfax County has decreased by 14 percent.  The plan to end homelessness is part of a Blueprint for Affordable Housing that our Board adopted on Jan. 26, 2010.  The blueprint uses a businesslike approach toward identifying the causes and needs of people who are homeless, along with strategies for responding in partnership with nonprofit and faith-based organizations. 

I encourage everyone to visit the county’s website to see the 2010 Snapshot report on ending homelessness in our community and find out more about our efforts to ensure that everyone has a roof over their heads. 

Volunteers are needed and welcome. No matter what your skills, age or resources, there are ways you can make a difference for people who are homeless. Working together will help us meet our goal for every child, family and individual to have a safe and permanent place to call home.

Sharon Bulova
Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors

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