Reston group looks to amend zoning rules to counter homelessness

Reston Strong places reflective emergency tents temporarily along the Reston Parkway to raise awareness about homelessness (photo courtesy Reston Strong)

A local effort to help homeless people in Reston is taking another step: looking to Fairfax County for relief.

The community group Reston Strong plans to ask county supervisors to change zoning rules to make it easier for temporary transitional housing in commercial buildings and spaces by making those adaptations “by right,” meaning a property owner wouldn’t need extra approvals if a project is within certain areas.

The 2,000-member group originated from a donation drive from Sarah Selvaraj-D’Souza, who noted in a statement how several buildings have been empty and felt that the change would be the cheapest and easiest solution to help get people indoors this time of year. Among its efforts, the county since 2005 has worked to provide hypothermia shelters during the winter.

Advocates are also looking for the county to pilot a mobile mental health crisis unit. Selvaraj-D’Souza stated that Reston Strong helped a woman while she was experiencing a mental health emergency a few months ago after police found her in the snow without a jacket. She had lost her bearings, and the group placed her in a hotel.

In addition, Reston Strong wants the county and Inova to consider a housing feasibility study for the former Cameron Glen rehab facility that closed in 2014.

The county already assists and coordinates with other groups to help those experiencing homelessness through its Office to Prevent and End Homelessness, and it recently revived efforts to pair mental health crisis specialists with specially trained police officers for certain 911 calls.

Last weekend, Reston Strong staged reflective emergency tents the Reston Parkway to raise awareness of about homelessness. Signs said “Love thy neighbor; no exceptions.”

“By showcasing tents along Reston Parkway we brought visibility for one night to our unhoused neighbors sleeping in outdoor tents during the cold winter,” volunteer coordinator Mary Barthelson said in a statement.

The group is looking to submit its concerns to the county board in March.

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