There is no reason for homelessness to exist in Fairfax County.
That is one of the key philosophies of the 10-Year Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness (view the plan and the retrospective) that began in 2008 and has led to a nearly 50% reduction in the number of individuals and families experiencing homelessness. From 2008-2018, the total number of homeless people dropped from 1,835 to 987, while the number of people in families with children fell from 1,091 to 488.
This achievement is the result of a coordinated and creative effort by public, private and faith-based organizations across the region led by the county’s Office to Prevent and End Homelessness. Those groups formed a partnership that was integral to developing and implementing the plan, which resulted in a number of other successes, including:
- A redesigned family emergency shelter intake system that eliminates waitlists and gives priority to families with minor children.
- An increase in the number of people exiting emergency shelters to permanent housing destinations (599 in FY 2012 to 978 in FY 2018).
- A drop in the average length of stay for families with children in shelters (96 days in FY 2012 to 68 days in FY 2018).
- A decrease in the average length of stay for single adults in shelters (51 days in FY 2012 to 33 days in FY 2018).
- The conversion of many transitional housing units to permanent housing.
- An approved bond referendum in 2016 that will provide $48 million for the renovation and/or rebuilding of four shelters.
To accomplish these goals, the 10-year plan outlined four key strategies to prevent and end homelessness: prevention, preservation, integration and implementation.
Homelessness prevention is an important part of the partnership’s efforts. This includes not only providing emergency financial assistance when people are in crisis, but also proactively supporting property owners and their tenants in order to maintain stable housing conditions.
Federal, state and local funding is provided to the county’s contracted nonprofits and faith partners, who also raise additional funds to prevent individuals and families from becoming homeless in the first place.
The partnership has increased the number of permanent housing options for people experiencing homelessness by reallocating public funds and obtaining new federal, state and local funds to create permanent housing options.
For example, the group obtained new funds from the Continuum of Care program from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and now receives close to $9 million annually for rapid-rehousing and permanent supportive housing.
Also, a Housing Opportunities Collaborative increases the number of private landlords who are willing to rent to prospective tenants. The collaborative offers an incentive program and other supports to landlords and tenants to help make the partnership effective.
The partnership has worked extensively over the past several years to craft and implement a new model called the Coordinated Entry System, which ensures that:
- Assistance is allocated as effectively as possible and should be easily accessible for all potential individuals and families.
- There is consistency in eligibility, prioritization, access and assessment.
- Policies and procedures are streamlined across all programs.
This strategy has been implemented across the community for all program types, including emergency shelter, street outreach, homelessness prevention, rapid-rehousing, permanent supportive housing and other permanent housing programs.
The partnership’s street outreach strategies to those who are experiencing unsheltered homelessness have also improved and now includes a comprehensive by-name list of everyone experiencing unsheltered homelessness in the county.
Our Office to Prevent and End Homelessness (OPEH) was established in 2009 to provide strategic leadership. Today, OPEH has experienced staff who, together with the nonprofit partners, manage the county’s homeless service programs and continue to drive the decline of homelessness in the community.
The group uses the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) to count all persons experiencing homelessness in the county. Since it was first implemented, it has become more robust in its content and features, with nearly all homeless service providers in the partnership contributing to the data. Timely and accurate data collection is a priority so that the data can be used to have greater impact on those being served and for system performance monitoring, evaluation and improvement.
Going forward, the partnership will continue to work collaboratively to end homelessness in the Fairfax-Falls Church community, with a renewed focus on housing, employment, advocacy/outreach, business engagement, Fairfax County policies, transportation and equity. The team will also target new and effective ways to help various homeless subpopulations, such as those with mental health disorders, older adults, those experiencing domestic violence and youth.
In addition, four of the county’s emergency shelters will be redeveloped utilizing the county’s $48 million bond that was approved in 2016, allowing the partnership to not only have new and accessible emergency shelters, but also add new permanent housing units for people experiencing homelessness.
The new Bailey’s Crossroads Community Shelter and Supportive Housing project, which is scheduled to open in late 2019, will be the first of the new facilities. In addition to the emergency shelter component, it will also include on-site permanent supportive housing for formerly homeless individuals with disabilities. The shelter rooms will be designed so that they can be converted to additional permanent supportive housing units with minimal costs as the need for shelter beds decreases.