Fairfax County has launched a new pilot program that will help improve water quality in streams and provide dignity in work to people experiencing homelessness. Started October 1, the 12-week program provides part-time, temporary work to guests of the Eleanor U. Kennedy Community Shelter, Bailey’s Crossroads Community Shelter, and The Lamb Center, and helps the county meet its mandate to keep streams clean. Participants will earn $10 an hour to pick up litter in and around streams and to remove invasive plants. The pilot is modeled after The Lamb Center’s successful City Jobs program, a partnership with the City of Fairfax.
Staff from the county’s Stormwater Planning Division will identify litter hotspots, and the non-profit operators of the shelters, New Hope Housing and The Lamb Center, will vet participants, provide transportation, supervise their work, track and report the number of bags of litter that are filled during each outing, and provide a hot meal after each four-hour shift. Participants will be provided with high-visibility vests, gloves, trash grabbers, nets, insect repellant, sunscreen, and trash bags. The Solid Waste Management Program will collect and dispose of the full bags of litter.
“The Office to Prevent and End Homelessness (OPEH) is excited to partner with the Department of Public Works and Environmental Services and New Hope Housing and the Lamb Center to support homeless individuals in gaining additional income and work experience that will help them as they move toward self-sufficiency. The benefit of this strong partnership will be a stronger workforce and a cleaner community,” said Dean Klein, director of OPEH.
Fairfax County’s stormwater system discharges to state waters through regulated outfalls. Federal and state laws require the county to apply for and maintain a Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permit from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. The goal of the permit is to reduce the discharge of polluted stormwater to streams, and to prevent anything other than rain or melted snow from entering the stormwater system, to the maximum extent practicable. The new pilot program is funded by the Stormwater Service District fee, established by the Board of Supervisors in 2010 to support environmental mandates, such as those that protect local streams and the Chesapeake Bay.
"The Lamb Center is proud to see the City Jobs program it created in cooperation with Fairfax City serve as a model for the county. For many of our guests this program is a steppingstone to more permanent work; for all, it offers dignity. It’s an approach that not only uplifts those who need help, but also benefits our community through cleaner, healthier streams,” said Tara Ruszkowski, board chair, The Lamb Center.
The pilot program supplements Fairfax County’s existing litter collection efforts, which are achieved through the coordinated efforts of multiple county agencies, the Park Authority, Fairfax County Public Schools, VDOT, the sheriff’s department, Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District, Clean Fairfax, and volunteers from other faith-based, civic, and environmental organizations. Cornerstones, the non-profit operator of the Embry Rucker Family Shelter, is monitoring the success of the pilot program and may join the effort if it continues beyond the initial three-month trial period.
“Despite county-wide efforts to address litter, we are still finding a lot of litter in streams. We believe this pilot will be cost-effective, provide additional outreach on the impacts of litter to a community that is typically disengaged, and provide the homelessness agencies resources to help serve and reengage this population with meaningful work,” said Randy Bartlett, DPWES director.
The pilot program aligns with the county’s equity policy, One Fairfax, that states, “…all residents deserve an equitable opportunity to succeed – regardless of their race, color, sex, nationality, sexual orientation, religion, disability, income, or where they live.”
“The MS4 team recognizes the valuable contributions that shelter guests can make to help reduce litter in our waterways. Fairfax County includes urban and suburban land areas, and both suffer from a large amount of litter. While our ultimate goal is to provide education and outreach to help prevent litter from occurring in the first place, we also recognize the need to clean up the existing litter and set an example for others to follow,” said Heather Ambrose, MS4 Program coordinator.
The Stormwater Planning Division and Solid Waste Management Program are managed by the Department of Public Works and Environmental Services.