As winter approaches, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors has taken steps to provide safe temporary hypothermia prevention shelters for individuals experiencing homelessness.
The Board approved an emergency ordinance on Tuesday, Oct. 6, authorizing the establishment of several county-operated temporary shelters between December 2020 and March 2021.
“It cannot be understated how critical this program is, and has been over the years, for thousands in our community who otherwise would have had no defense against the icy grip of winter,” Fairfax County Chairman Jeffrey McKay said in a press release.
“COVID-19 has dealt us all a challenging hand, and this measure is just another example of how we are continuing to use outside-of-the-box thinking and planning to ensure that we can still come through on behalf of those who need our help the most in our community.”
Fairfax County has partnered with houses of worship and nonprofits in years past to provide shelters for individuals experiencing homelessness. Those efforts have allowed people who enter the shelters to receive meals and other assistance.
Due to COVID-19 and protocols advised by the state and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, many houses of worship are closed or functioning in a limited capacity that will not allow for the same shelter options as previous years.
As a result of the protocols now in place, the board has identified seven county-owned sites that can be utilized for the Hypothermia Prevention Program and offer shelter. These include:
- Lincolnia Senior Center (4710 North Chambliss Street, Alexandria)
- Braddock Glen Wellness Center (12011 Government Center Parkway, Fairfax)
- Gerry Hyland Government Center (8350 Richmond Highway, Alexandria)
- North County Human Services Building (1850 Cameron Glen Dr., Reston)
- Fairfax County Government Center (12000 Government Center Pkwy, Fairfax)
- Herrity Building (12055 Government Center Parkway, Fairfax)
- Pennino Building (12011 Government Center Parkway, Fairfax)
“The County’s Hypothermia Prevention Program provides a critical, life-saving service for our county’s most vulnerable residents,” Tom Barnett, Deputy Director for the Department of Housing and Community Development’s Office to Prevent and End Homelessness, said in a press release.
“Last year, through an outstanding community partnership effort, we were able to provide 49 sites to serve an average of 215 guests each night who had no place else to go. Through this action, we can begin planning contingencies to ensure that everyone who needs a warm place to stay and access to supportive services can find it.”
The North County Human Services Building – which is serviced by Cornerstones – is the lone site of the seven that was used in this capacity last year. However, services will be altered at the site as two rooms will be utilized instead of one to allow for 100 square feet per person, according to Maura Williams, Cornerstones’ Division Director for Housing and Community Services.
“This additional space means we need to hire twice as many staff as normal to manage two rooms,” Williams said. “There has been some discussion about providing 24-hour services for the hypothermia program this year, but no firm decision. It really depends on our staffing capabilities.”
Williams also said Cornerstones’ staff will continue to implement the new COVID-19 procedures it has utilized at the Embry Rucker Community Shelter. Those procedures include temperature checks, health screenings, hand sanitizer, gloves, face masks, face shields, sneeze guards and social distancing.
A press release from the county says many of the chosen locations are currently closed to the public or operating at a reduced occupancy that will allow for “a safe, warm location where individuals who are homeless can stay overnight.”
A public hearing is planned for November for the Board to receive public comment on this ordinance. Additional information about the hearing will be posted online as further details are finalized.
For more information about the hearings and how to contribute comments, visit https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/bosclerk/
Photo via Fairfax County Government