Chairman Connolly's Remarks

Gerald Connolly's Remarks
Chairman, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors
Community Summit to End Homelessness

April 7, 2006

We made it through the winter. Seventeen weeks, seventeen venues, 119 nights and the generosity of thousands of volunteers enabled our community to survive the winter without the loss of a single life as a result of hypothermia. 

Gerald ConnollyOn January 25th workers and volunteers across the county completed its annual point-in-time survey. From this we learned that there are 2,077 homeless individuals in our community, an increase of 6.5 percent over last year and the equivalent of .002 percent of our population. Of these, 1,766 are literally unsheltered, 934 are single and 1,143 are in families. 

Homelessness is a problem across the United States; however in a region where the median household income is $88,133 annually and six Fortune 500 companies sit in our backyard, we as a community actually have the resources to fix it. Continuing to allow these members of our community to be homeless is simply unacceptable. The time has come to stop talking about managing homelessness and start planning to end it.  It will take each and every one of you here today, from every arena of our community to end homelessness. 

Coming together is imperative. The government can’t solve this alone. While we did indeed convene this summit today, it is because we recognize that we cannot do this alone. We need your help. The population in need of housing is undoubtedly the most complicated and expensive to address. A real solution will require enormous creativity and innovative thinking. Whether you represent a business, a nonprofit or a faith organization, your knowledge and investment is essential.

These individuals are everywhere, not isolated to any particular segment of our community.  Some are in motels, others camp in the woods.  From December to April, 134 individuals were sheltered in church venues and overflow beds in our shelters.  Now that the hypothermia program has ended some were fortunate enough to secure a bed in a shelter; others weren’t so lucky.

I visited one of these venues on a cold December night where more than eighty men and women congregated for a warm meal and shelter. Their stories were plentiful, their spirit inspiring. Their eagerness to escape homelessness and reenter society was palpable. 

Not only did these shelters save lives, they shed light on a problem that is all too often made invisible in our community. Volunteers developed personal relationships with the shelter guests; they thought of them as individuals not “homeless people.” In fact, during recent budget hearings, one volunteer recalled the following, “More than 150 children and adults in our church community volunteered their time, talents and compassion in the hypothermia project this winter. Across the 17 participating religious communities, there were thousands of volunteers who were touched by helping our homeless neighbors. While we sheltered and fed as many as 88 homeless adults each evening that the hypothermia shelter was housed in our church, we also got to know our guests. Some had serious mental illnesses. Others came with physical illnesses or untreated medical problems. Addiction to alcohol and other drugs affected some. Many worked at minimum wage jobs. What struck many volunteers was the humanity of homeless people — that in sharing a meal, a quiet game or a late night conversation — we could no longer think of them as ‘the homeless’ but rather, as individuals with hopes and demons. Homeless people are our neighbors. We cannot turn away having looked them in the eyes.  It is not right that in this richly blessed community that we live in churches must open their doors in the winters to prevent our neighbors from freezing to death.” 

No two were the same. There was Bill, a Vietnam veteran and recovering alcoholic who’d recently spent a year in Morgantown, West Virginia in detox and recovery before being dropped off in Fairfax, given a tarp and sent to the woods to live. Bill had two gallon-sized Ziplock bags of medicine, some to be taken with food, some without, some for the morning, some for the night. He had hepatitis, post traumatic stress syndrome, osteoarthritis and is a paranoid schizophrenic. He wants to work, he wants his daughter to come to visit him, but not while he is homeless.  But finding and holding a job is challenging when your home is a spot for your sleeping bag on a fellowship hall floor. 

I also met Anne, a former school teacher with a master's degree who is bipolar, has lost everything and spoke of the importance of being able to shower and have clean laundry, the key role that The Lamb Center played in enabling her to maintain stability. She longed to teach again, but without housing has found it difficult to navigate the system and was confused about where to go for which services. Anne is sharp as a tack and easily mistaken for a hypothermia shelter volunteer.

Volunteers repeatedly thanked the guests for the opportunity to have such an experience. While they ultimately would like a more permanent solution, they can’t wait to host the guests again next year. The service they provided, designed to help others, instead transformed them. The gift they sought to give became the gift they received.

Together we’re making strides in our efforts to ensure an adequate supply of affordable housing.  In only 27 months we’ve preserved 846 units—but we’re still not reaching the bottom 10 percent of our homeless neighbors.  In a community where an individual must earn $22.25/hour—the equivalent of $46,280 annually and twice that of minimum wage—to afford an average priced rental unit, we must explore and develop additional options for those who simply cannot afford such costly housing.

Options are the key, and a key option for this target group is the development of more efficiency or Single Room Occupancy (SRO) units. The county can and will develop SROs to serve our singles population and will continue to work tirelessly to provide permanent housing solutions for families. We will scrub the lists of county-owned land, carefully examining every potential site for SROs and other affordable housing options. We will ramp up our mental and physical health care services by providing on-site care on a roving basis.

In fiscal year 2006 the county made a commitment to expand critically needed health care services to residents of the county’s homeless shelters. In addition to providing on-site health care services from nurse practitioners at the shelters and ongoing primary and specialty medical care at the county’s Affordable Health Care Centers, the county has established a Medically Fragile Homeless Pilot Program at the Embry Rucker Shelter. This program has led to improved health outcomes for sheltered individuals. The current system, however, does not adequately serve the over 370 unsheltered chronically homeless individuals with significant mental health, substance abuse, and disability issues who are resistant to or unable to access health services. I have commissioned a community/staff planning committee to develop an integrated health care network, which includes mobile health service that meets the needs of sheltered and unsheltered homeless individuals in Fairfax County.

As an interim measure, until a full proposal is developed, we will:

  • Deploy nurse practitioners to drop-in sites, in the community, such as the Mount Vernon Mental Health Center, to provide health assessments, treatment, referral and coordination with service providers; and 

  • Provide up-to-date information to human service providers and case workers on existing health care programs and strategies to facilitate enrollment. 

In fiscal year 2007 the county WILL HAVE a program that provides comprehensive health care services for the homeless, whether they are sheltered or unsheltered, in our community.

I am proposing that, this fall, the Fairfax County Department of Housing and Community Development will launch a pilot program to move families from homelessness to homeownership with a goal of providing stable, permanent housing for up to 25 families—leaving us only 308 to go.

  • Participating families will be moved into a continuum of stabilized housing and other services, starting with the provision of rental housing assistance, a family self-sufficiency plan achieved through a regimen of supportive services, and finally homebuyer assistance.  This continuum will be a solid foundation for program participants and prepare them for selfsufficiency and homeownership—the ultimate American dream.   

  • Participating families will initially be assisted with HOME Program tenant-based rental assistance (TBRA) for up to five years.  However, it is the county’s vision that some families will be ready for homeownership before the end of the full five years.  Our goal is to begin moving at least five families per year into homeownership after the second year of the program. 

  • Families will be supported in their efforts to achieve the final program goal of homeownership through the program requirement that they design and implement a family self-sufficiency plan, complete with household goals and timelines. 

  • Household self-sufficiency plan design and case management will be coordinated through the Fairfax County Department of Family Services and participating nonprofit service providers.

  • The level of supportive services provided to participating families will vary depending on the self-sufficiency plan designed for each family. These plans and goals will be used to measure each family’s progress in moving toward self-sufficiency, and evaluated annually throughout the course of the program.
As families move from rental housing into homeownership, the Department of Housing and Community Development will employ a variety of resources to assist with the housing purchase, including:
  • HOME and American Dream Down payment Initiative (ADDI) funds;
  • Section 8 Homeownership Assistance Vouchers;
  • Affordable Dwelling Units (ADUs) that will become available through the County’s Affordable Dwelling Unit Ordinance; and
  • Other homebuyer assistance opportunities and resources.

To further prepare these families for homeownership, those receiving homebuyer assistance will be required to complete a homebuyer counseling course as a component of their family self sufficiency action plan.

If approved by the Board of Supervisors, the Department of Housing and Community Development would begin interviewing families for the pilot program this fall, and the first families are expected to be ready to move into their homes by the beginning of 2007.

We all want a more permanent solution and we must dedicate ourselves, as a community, to work tirelessly to develop one until each and every individual in our community are sheltered.  As the guests at the hypothermia venue so often reminded me, “they are homeless, not hopeless” and their hope is synchronized with ours—to make homelessness a thing of the past.  One charge for us today is to help identify the policy and program elements necessary to accomplish the goal of ending homelessness in the next decade.

We’re ready to do our part, but we can’t do it without you.  The solution to this problem goes far beyond that of government.  It has to be a collaborative effort.  Let’s begin this task today.

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