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Hunters Woods Safety, Issues Focus of Community Forums

by Karen Goff — May 1, 2014 at 9:27 am 1,515 18 Comments

Tent pitched in back of Christ the Servant Church

Hunters Woods Village Center management rearranged the parking lot and gave the shopping plaza a cosmetic facelift about a year ago. But a deeper problem remains: the perception that the center is not a safe place.

There have been recent complaints of panhandling and other nuisance, but not necessarily criminal, activity at Hunters Woods, Fairfax County Police said. This spring, residents of the Hunters Woods Condo Association, which borders the plaza’s Christ the Servant Lutheran Church, say they have noticed a new neighbor — one who lives in a tent in back of the church.

The tent was a subject of a recent condo association meeting. It is sure to come up again on May 7 and 10, when police and representatives from Reston Community Center, Cornerstones and FCPD will meet with the community to talk about what’s being done to improve safety at Hunters Woods.

Katy DeFoe, crime prevention specialist for FCPD’s Reston District Station, say community leaders have been meeting for about a year to discuss — and make changes at — Hunters Woods.

“I hear from the community ‘I don’t want to go to Hunters Woods. There are people hanging out there,’ ” says DeFoe. “But the stories I hear are not backed up by [crime in the] police reports.”

The police did not have updated crime stats for Hunters Woods available.

DeFoe says several plans have been implemented to work on improving safety (or the perception of safety) at Hunters Woods.

Among them:

  • Making sure the community knows who to call when they see criminal activity or they are being bothered by someone.
  • Adding visible police presence.
  • Improving lighting on the Reston Association paths near the village center. RA will pay for this.
  • Improving visibility on the plaza between RCC, the church and the retail shops. This area formerly had tall bushes where people could congregate or hide. Vegetation is now lower and sparser.

As for the tent dwellers and other disadvantaged people who frequent the plaza, authorities say they know who they are and are working with them on housing and other services.

Both DeFoe and Greg White, COO of Cornerstones, the Reston nonprofit that helps residents in need of services, say crime at Hunters Woods is not usually attributed to people who are homeless. White says he has identified one man who was aggressively panhandling.

White says there have been a handful of people living in tents in the area for years. They are usually found in the wooded areas near the Reston District Station and by Target. The county allows this, as long as they do not bother citizens.

“There are certain parts of the population who don’t do well in shelters,” says White.

This is most often due to substance abuse issues, mental health issues or difficulty following the shelter’s rules.

Christ the Redeemer has an active outreach for people who are homeless, said White. The church’s pastor, Philip Carl, was traveling this week and could not be reached.

On Tuesdays, about 15-20 people usually come to the lunch and outreach sponsored by Cornerstones and the church, said White.

The man who is living behind the church used to camp in a different location in Reston, said White. He works odd jobs for the church and Cornerstones is working on getting him more permanent housing, he added. DeFoe says there is no ordinance that prohibits camping on private property and that the church is not under the management of Edens, the company that owns the retail portion of Hunters Woods.

Leila Gordon, executive director of Reston Community Center, said she welcomes everyone in the building — as long as they comport themselves respectfully. That applies to people who are homeless who wish to use RCC Hunters Woods’ locker rooms to shower or just sit in the public space to get out of the cold, she said.

“It is a covenant,” she said. “When you come into our facility, your treat yourself and others with respect. It is a two-way street.”

Gordon says the Hunters Woods working group has helped the organizations better understand the dynamics of the neighborhood.

“There is crime in this area,” says Gordon. “But the homeless are also the victims. They are not the perpetrators. That doesn’t mean we allow behavior that rattles other people. We have made it clear that foul language and public drinking won’t be tolerated.”

Interested in attending the public meetings on this subject? They are May 7, 6:30 p.m. Reston Community Center Hunters Woods and May 10, 2 p.m., Christ the Servant Lutheran Church.

Photo: Tent in back of Christ the Servant Lutheran Church.

  • MV

    lets hope they have a plan for the walking paths as well. Have been seeing too much drug activity behind my house lately. Not happy to walk out on my back porch to see drug deals go down 20 feet away.

  • MH

    Panhandling is becoming in issue all over Reston, lately. I’ve seen them at South Lakes shopping center as well as the McDonald’s on Wiehle.

  • Tracey Carter

    This is the view from the balcony of my Condo. If the building wasn’t already an eyesore enough. I am glad this is finally being dealt with. MV – I also see a lot of that too. I don’t even walk down the hunter woods trails anymore because I fear for my safety.

  • commuterbooks

    Rather than just assuming that homeless people make things “unsafe,” is there anything we Restonians can do to actually help the problem? It looks like Conerstones has a homeless shelter program (http://www.cornerstonesva.org/services/housing/).

    • Karen Goff

      Yes, there is a lot you can do. Cornerstones can aways use volunteers at food pantry, front desk, outreach, etc.

  • ewild

    A troubling issue (which is likely related) is the epidemic of drinking and littering on the trails near Hunters Woods. I can’t count the number of times we’ve seen 24 or 48 beer cans strewn about on the trail, in the stream, or at the ball field, almost always within sight of a trash can! I know I’m not the only one tired of cleaning up after this thoughtless littering, and I’m concerned about the safety in the area knowing that people are out there getting wasted on the trails.

    • Azurra

      Just need to express my agreement with you here! It’s very disheartening to see the beer cans, bottles and beer cases in and around the stream. For the Watershed Cleanup Day, April 5, myself and a group of neighbors cleaned up bags and bags of trash from the area. Then, not even a week later, the beer cans and bottles were back. It’s very ugly and sad.

  • JoAnne Norton

    I believe at the condo meeting concern was voiced about the drinking and other people on the paths. I was in Safeway the other day and I witnessed a homeless man steal a beer. It was one of the regulars on the plaza. I have always supported and fed the men on the plaza. Seeing him steel ended it for me. One of the people mentioned in the article said I should talk to him about it. This man stole. I do not feel safe approaching him about that. I also saw him wandering around Hunters Woods Condos.

    • Karen Goff

      JoAnne – What they meant was tell the authorities about it, ie the police, safeway management, RCC. Not the individual himself.

      • JoAnne Norton

        No, it was not, Karen.

        • Karen Goff

          JoAnne. I am going to have to disagree. I have reread the story. It doesn’t say that anywhere in the story. there is only this –

          “Making sure the community knows who to call when they see criminal activity or they are being bothered by someone.”

          • JoAnne Norton

            Karen, what I am saying is that I did tell someone and this person told me to talk to the person who stole about it. I said I was too scared. I reported it in a note to the police today. But I do not want to idenitfy the person.

          • JoAnne Norton

            We watched this shopping center go way down hill and there was considerable savvy and work getting it rebuilt. That was something to go through in itself. We listened to people complain that it was dangerous to even come here. Safeway came back. It was a huge celebration when I worked at the Community Center. Now the clerks told me the day the man stole the beer that “they do that all the time.” We cannot afford to lose Safeway again. And you heard it above people do not want to buy here.

  • JoAnne Norton

    I attempted to report this to Karen Goff a while back. I am glad she finally did an article on it.

  • Karen Goff

    Rob. This is one reason they are improving lighting on the path.

    • Rob Norwood

      Karen,
      This is the middle of the daytime. I don’t see how lighting helps with that.
      Again, a couple of the trails, although paved and maintained by RA, are fairly well hidden.
      It isn’t like over by South Lakes where you and I live, nor is it like behind the Crescent up by Lake Anne where I really don’t encounter anyone while running, even on the obvious and well-hidden trail that goes beneath Baron Cameron. There’s a fair amount of loitering and obvious “meeting” (drug dealing?) that takes place below Hunters Woods Village Center.

      Much of this wouldn’t take place with some bike patrols paying random visits.

      • JoAnne Norton

        How do all the beer cans get there anyway? Do the police patrol at night ever?

  • Azurra

    The Fairfax County Department of Public Safety Communications Non-Emergency phone number is (703) 691-2131.

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