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Hypothermia and Homelessness Archived Discussion Room

Fairfax County, Virginia

Hypothermia and Homelessness

Threats of severe temperatures and hunger — that’s what many children, women and men in our community may face again today. Have you ever wondered how you can help those who have no place to go this winter season? Learn more about how our community has prepared to help our most vulnerable neighbors. Chat with Dean Klein, director of the county's Office to Prevent and End Homelessness, and find out what you can do to help. Hit refresh on your browser for the latest responses.

Dean Klein : Welcome to Ask Fairfax! Today’s discussion is focused on Hypothermia and homelessness. We welcome your questions as we look forward to a lively dialogue.

Ron : Where are the hypothermia shelters and how do you access them?

Dean Klein : If you see an unsheltered person at night, and you think they could be at risk of hypothermia, call the county’s non-emergency phone line at 703-691-2131, TTY 711. County emergency personnel will determine which shelter option is best in the situation. In addition to the winter capacity available at the county’s year-round homeless shelters, the following volunteer-supported hypothermia prevention efforts are underway throughout the winter in Fairfax County: North County - Reston / Herndon area (Dec. 1, 2010-March 31, 2011): Reston Interfaith is operating a hypothermia prevention shelter site using office space owned by the county government and coordinates volunteers from faith communities and businesses who provide dinner and breakfast. Central County (Nov. 21, 2010-March 31, 2011): Each week two faith communities or one large one, offer their facilities as a host shelter site and provide meals, often assisted by other area faith communities. FACETS, a local nonprofit organization, coordinates this effort. East County (Dec. 1, 2010-March 31, 2011): Volunteers of America, a nonprofit organization that operates Fairfax County’s Bailey’s Crossroads Community Shelter, is overseeing the hypothermia prevention effort in the eastern part of Fairfax County and is coordinating the support from nearby faith communities who offer overnight shelter. Shelter guests eat dinner at the Bailey’s shelter that is prepared, delivered and served by area faith communities. Then VOA transports men to a sheltering site at a nearby faith community, and the women to another. South County (Dec. 1, 2010-March 31, 2011): Rising Hope United Methodist Mission Church provides the sheltering site all winter, as it has done for several years. Ventures in Community, a consortium of faith communities in the South County area, provides meals and overnight volunteers, supported by New Hope Housing, the nonprofit organization that operates two county homeless shelters nearby.

Anonymous User : What can be done when a known homeless person, who rountinely uses the public portion of a County building, leaves the building when it closes late at night? There's no homeless shelter nearby. The person seems to manage something; but, I'm concerned about what happens to her, especially during the winter. She hasn't asked for help and isn't particuarly approachable; but, it seems as though we have some responsibility to make sure she's okay when she walks out into the night. (She causes absolutely no problems for staff members or other members of the public.)

Dean Klein : If you see an unsheltered person at night, and you think they could be at risk of hypothermia, call the county’s non-emergency phone line at 703-691-2131, TTY 711. County emergency personnel will determine which shelter option is best in the situation. Also, the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board has mental health outreach workers in each of the four human service regions. These staff could help if needed with this particular client. You can access this support through the Fairfax County Coordinated Services Planning at 703-222-0880, TTY 711.

Fairfax county library employee : During winter there is a terrible shortage of beds for people to spend the night at a homeless shelter. Is there a chance that the shelters in our area will be expanded or a new one ones built that can house people over night so they can at least find someplace warm for a few hours.

Dean Klein : The homeless shelters in the county are usually full to capacity throughout the year. As we get into the coldest season of the year, local faith-based communities, businesses, and nonprofit organizations are partnering with Fairfax County government to prevent hypothermia deaths. This winter several hypothermia prevention shelter sites are available thanks to the commitment and support of the community. Instead of building new shelters or expanding the existing ones, our community has adopted a new approach to ending homelessness called Housing First. What makes this approach different from traditional emergency shelter is that people who are homeless are placed immediately into permanent housing — with regular support. This approach takes people as they are, in part because housing is a basic right. Put simply, housing comes first, with services.

Sam : I see folks with placards saying they are homeless and asking for help. Where can I tell them to seek shelter in Fairfax County? What resources are available and how can I steer them to these resources?

Dean Klein : If you see an unsheltered person at night during the cold winter season, call the county’s non-emergency phone line at 703-691-2131, TTY 711. In other cases, you can direct a person seeking help to contact the Fairfax County Coordinated Services Planning at 703-222-0880, TTY 711.

Anonymous User : Has the number of homeless people gone down in this county? Or has the economic downturn made things worse?

Dean Klein : During the past year, the number of people who were homeless in the Fairfax-Falls Church Community has decreased nearly 11 percent. On Jan. 27, 2010, there were 1,544 people who were literally homeless our community. 652 of them were single individuals and 892 were people in families. However, our indicators show that more individuals are seeking assistance or could be only one pay check away from homelessness.

Sue : With all the county cutbacks in services and all the non-profits struggling as well as individual citizens, can we really expect this dilemma that our brothers and sisters face ever really be ended in a county when so many ignore the problem?

Dean Klein : The Fairfax-Falls Church Community Partnership to Prevent and End Homelessness was established to make sure that no later than Dec. 31, 2018, every person who is homeless or at risk of becoming homeless can access appropriate permanent hosing and the services needed to keep them in their homes. The county government is partnering with the community to ensure that services are coordinated, new housing opportunities are created, and that we measure our success and adapt our plan accordingly. We need to work together to find solutions to this problem. To reach the goal of ending homelessness will take a communitywide team of individual county residents, nonprofit organizations, businesses, faith-based communities, health care organizations, schools and local government. Most important, we need help from individuals who are willing to help mentor and support those in need. Talk with neighbors and members of your faith group about what you can do together to prevent homelessness. To stay informed of our community’s efforts, visit

Anonymous User : How much does the hypothermia program cost?

Dean Klein : Fairfax County Government spends approximately $500,000 each year on the hypothermia program. This number fluctuates some from year to year based upon the severity of the weather and the number of individuals served. In addition to funding from the county, the participating nonprofit organizations, faith-based communities and individual volunteers provide additional resources to this program.

Reston, VA : With the major snowstorms last year, how did the homeless population get services then? Are special measures taken during large snowfalls? How can I help?

Dean Klein : The storms provided a true test for the Hypothermia Prevention Program in Fairfax County. Back-to-back snow storms made life trying for residents, but for those without a home, it was a question of pure survival. During the 10-day time period following the first of the early February snowfalls, an average of 234 were served each night. These individuals are those in need of shelter but cannot take advantage of the county’s regular shelter and winter programs because they are already full. Our countywide community truly came together to shelter homeless individuals from the brutal weather conditions. The extreme burden placed on the service delivery system by the deep snows and hard winds was overcome as staff and volunteers committed to keeping homeless individuals safe indoors and supplied with food. The weather severely disrupted the program’s normal staffing patterns, food deliveries by volunteers, and other support services provided by the community, yet sheltering at each and every one of the sites across the county did not cease for even a moment. During events such as these, you can help by being prepared - you can work with your faith communities and civic groups on emergency preparedness plan. You also can check on your neighbors and educate them of how to get more information during emergencies. For more information, visit

Anonymous User : How many people will need assistance this winter

Dean Klein : Last year we served more than 900 people in the Hypothermia Program. This was in addition to those being served in the homeless shelters during the winter months. We anticipate that, at a mimimum, we will serve this number of individuals and families this winter season.

Resident : Is it true that due to the programs in Reston Herndon area that no one goes hungry in those areas? If so, what can be done to expand the program in other parts of the county to ensure all Fairfax County residents dont go hungry.

Dean Klein : Given the cost of living across the county and the current economic climate, hunger, unfortunately, is reality for many adults and children in our community. In addition to programs in Reston and Herndon, many other programs across the county provide food assistance to residents. Many of these programs are neighborhood based and efforts are being made to ensure that resources are available countywide. For more information on how to help, visit

Anonymous User : What if someone has a home but no electricity? Are there ways to help them if they need money for power so they don't get hypothermia?

Dean Klein : Fairfax County Coordinated Services Planning staff is available to connect residents to resources around issues dealing with basic needs, such as food, shelter and utilities assistance. They can be reached at 703-222-0880, TTY 711.

EveryDayPerson : What can a non homeless family do to support your programs? I do not think you want us to give the homeless meals or drop off clothes if we see them in a parking lot. What help do you recommend we do?

Dean Klein : In order to help those most vulnerable in our community, work with your local nonprofit organizations or faith-based communities as they really do have sense of what the need is in your neighborhood and community. To find out more about local organizations and how you can partner with them to help, visit

Anonymous User : Of the 11 percent drop in the homeless population, how many are likely to become homeless again? I noticed there's a count once a year; why not more frequently so the numbers are more accurate?

Dean Klein : The Point-in-Time Count has been a regular tool that is widely recognized as one way to count the number of persons who are homeless on one particular day. Our community partnership inlcuding nonprofit partners, Fairfax County Office to Prevent and End Homelessness and other government agencies has been working effectively to use the Homeless Management Information System to collect more comprehensie data on more than 120 programs relating to preventing and ending homelessness. I anticipate in the coming months that we will continue to strengthen this effort to ensure effective reporting on this very vulnerable population.

Dean Klein : There are more than 1,500 children, men and women in our community without a safe and permanent place to call home. We, as a community, are working with nonprofit partners, faith-based communities, businesses and government entities to make sure that programs, such as the hypothermia program, will no longer be needed once we reach our goal of ending homelessness in 10 years. If you would like to help this winter season, contact a local nonprofit or faith-based community in your neighborhood. For more information on our community partnership, visit Thank you for your efforts!