Reston community members have set up a GoFundMe to help an individual experiencing homelessness pay for a local hotel room.
On a sunny May morning, 62-year-old Mark sat on the curb at the back of Target’s parking lot on Sunset Hills Road in Reston.
When a gray Honda CR-V pulls up in front of him, he smiles and waves. The car’s window comes down, he stands up, limping to the car. The woman inside hands Mark some money.
“God bless you,” Mark said.
“Your smile makes me happy,” the woman responded.
“I love to see them smile back,” Mark said, sitting back on the curb as the woman drives away. “It’s a little bit of interaction.”
With his balloons, signs, and a smile, Mark — who asked Reston Now not use his last name out of privacy concerns — has become a well-known fixture at this spot. He has been sitting there six days a week, with Mondays off, since he started experienced homelessness five years ago, going on six.
Earlier this year, Oak Hill resident David Ritter set up a GoFundMe to assist Mark in paying for a room at a nearby hotel. Currently, the fundraiser amassed over $900, but it has a goal of $10,000.
Ritter tells Reston Now he’s helping because he’s gotten to know Mark over the last several years.
“A lot of homeless people don’t interact, don’t engage, and are not positive like Mark,” Ritter said. “I think that’s a testament to his character.”
Mark tells Reston Now that he’s a veteran and a Columbia University medical school graduate who has a past criminal record that has prevented him from getting a job.
“I’ve sent out 1,500 job applications in five years,” Mark said. “Nobody will hire me…The computer probably just spits it out once you check that box.”
He also has physical limitations stemming from diabetes, a bad hip, and a shoulder surgery gone bad, putting his left arm in a sling. He additionally suffers from bipolar disorder. He says he’s applied for disability and is still waiting to hear back about help.
Behind the smile and loquacious nature, Mark admits that the difficulty of his situation can affect his mental health.
“It’s definitely difficult at times,” he said. “I’m bipolar. I can have massive depression episodes. I go down hard.”
In general, Mark says, people are very kind to him.
The nearby Sunoco gas station owns the land where he sits, Mark says, and they let him sit there every day (Reston Now independently verified this with Sunoco). Target employees are also very nice, teasingly calling him the “goodbye person” since he waves to everyone exiting the parking lot.
He says Fairfax County police check in on him regularly, always treating him with respect and dignity.
And people in cars often stop to give a few dollars, food, and other supplies. On good days, he says he makes about a hundred dollars a day.
Over the course of his hour-long interview with Reston Now, no less than six people in cars stop to help Mark out. He greets everyone with a wave, a smile, and a hearty thank you.
“I get a lot of food from Target and all the restaurants from around here,” he says, chuckling. “I haven’t had to buy my own lunch or dinner in a long time.”
The hope with the GoFundMe is that it would provide Mark the means to get a room every night at the local hotel where he’s staying. Read More
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
Weather-related Road Closures — Although no roads are closed in Reston, a number of areas throughout the county remain impacted by yesterday’s storm. [Fairfax County Police Department]
Reston Association Board Meets Tonight — The Board of Directors will meet virtually today at 6:30 p.m. The meeting will take place via Zoom. [Reston Association]
Founding Farmers, Comstock to Deliver Food to Shelter — “Comstock Companies and Founding Farmers are partnering to provide breakfast and boxed lunches to the the Embry Rucker Shelter over the next month. Embry Rucker, which is located at 11975 Bowman Towne Drive, is a 70-bed residential shelter that provides housing for individuals and families in Reston.” [Reston Patch]
Photo via Marjorie Copson
If the coronavirus spreads in Fairfax County and Northern Virginia, homeless shelters and other services for low-to-moderate-income individuals and families could be hit hard, officials warn.
Cornerstones, a local nonprofit organization that aims to promote self-sufficiency, is preparing for the potential impact of the respiratory disease. So far, 17 coronavirus cases have been confirmed in Virginia, a number that officials say is expected to grow.
Kerrie Wilson, the CEO of Cornerstones, says that nonprofit organizations are at risk. The cascading effect of today’s school closure is expected to produce additional strains on services. Wilson said the nonprofit organization will need to balancing competing needs.
“We’ve seen this with other crises such as hurricanes, pandemics, and the federal government shut down impacts a huge number of households in our region. The Coronavirus poses a real and prolonged threat that can undermine the safety net and our undo the upstream workaround opportunity.”
So far, the nonprofit organization is working to protect the health and safety of its employees, staff, and individuals who depend on Cornerstones’ support and services. All non-essential meetings and community events have been postponed and the center is working with local government and schools to develop plans to continue operations for emergency food and shelter, as well as child and family services.
“While we have been fortunate to have only four documented cases in Fairfax to date, we are preparing for when, not if.”
The nonprofit is looking for donations to help with meal delivery after it requested that volunteers refrain from visiting the Embry Rucker Community Shelter until March 27.
Other items — which can be dropped off at a shelf outside the center — are also needed:
- Body wash
- Men’s and women’s underwear
- Cleaning products (bleach, Lysol, paper towels, laundry pods, Windex, empty spray bottles)
- Gift cards for fast food, grocery stores, Target
- Hand sanitizer
The food pantry is also in need of the following, especially for seniors who may be shut off from family members and under-resourced families:
- Grocery store gift cards
- Gas gift cards
- Cooking Oil
- Clorox Wipes
“We have to balance risk against decision to expand childcare hours to ensure kids and parents have options,” Wilson said. “For people experiencing homelessness and in need of emergency housing and other services, our doors need to remain open – but with options to protect medically fragile guests from those who might have been exposed to risk and to ensure the safety of staff.”
The organization will continue to monitor the situation, which is evolving rapidly, and make additional changes as needed.
“The Coronavirus poses a real and prolonged threat that can undermine the safety net and our undo the upstream workaround opportunity,” Wilson said.
The 36th annual Capitol Steps fundraiser performance on Sunday (Jan. 27) raised nearly $400,000 for Cornerstones to help families in the Embry Rucker Community Shelter.
The D.C.-based political satire group is known for mocking both sides of the aisle in songs and comedy skits. A sold-out crowd of 700 attendees came to this year’s annual benefit show at the Hyatt Regency Reston.
“Even though we live in one of the wealthiest counties in the nation, more than 1,000 men, woman and children — 30 percent of whom are children — are homeless in this community,” Jeff Detwiler, the president and chief executive officer of Long and Foster, said before Capitol Steps performed. “We believe that supporting Cornerstones in its mission makes us as a community stronger.”
Bob Van Hoecke, co-chair of the event, noted that some attendees may be experiencing stress from the longest partial federal government shutdown, which ended days before the performance. “Cornerstones is here for anyone in our community in need because of the funds we are able to raise tonight and throughout the year.”
Del. Ken Plum rallied the crowd for the annual “Empty the Shelter” Paddle Auction and then thanked them after they raised $100,000 for Cornerstones’ rapid re-housing programs.
At the end of the night, a total of $412,557 had been raised for the cause, according to information provided by Cornerstones — a sizable increase from recent years. (The annual benefit performance raised roughly $340,000 in 2018 and almost $300,000 in 2017.)
Photos by Chip McCrea Photography
The Capitol Steps are back in Reston this Sunday (Jan. 27) for the troupe’s 36th annual benefit performance for Cornerstones.
The D.C.-based political satire group is known for mocking both sides of the aisle in songs and comedy skits. The troupe has recorded more than 35 albums since Senate staffers started Capitol Steps in 1981 according to the website.
Proceeds from the performance benefit families in the Cornerstones’ Embry Rucker Community Shelter. In recent years, the annual benefit performance has raised more than $300,000.
Photo via The Capitol Steps/Facebook
Reston’s Embry Rucker Community Shelter is set to receive later this month quilts made by inmates in a sewing program.
A class member who benefited from the shelter’s services at 11975 Bowman Towne Drive requested that quilts go there, according to Fairfax County.
The Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office created the sewing class at the Alternative Incarceration Branch of the Adult Detention Center (10520B Judicial Drive) in July to offer inmates a marketable life skill and help cut back costs. The program kicked off after an investment of $3,600 paid for the sewing machines and equipment.
The Adult Detention Center has an average population of roughly 1,000 inmates, who all wear jumpsuits. The Sheriff’s Office usually spends about $12,000 per year repairing jumpsuits, with an average of 200 jumpsuits sent out every month at a cost of $5 each last year, according to the county. Replacing them is even more expensive at about $15 to $17 each.
Now, inmates repair all of the jumpsuits in-house.
The quilting program emerged to fill their spare time after the inmates consistently finished jumpsuit repairs before the end of each class period. Inmates use donated pieces of fabric to create the quilts.
Photo via Fairfax County
Artists will display and sell original artwork in the Jo Ann Rose Gallery from Nov. 26 through Jan. 7. A holiday gift shopping event will follow on Dec. 1, turning the facility into a marketplace with food and gifts from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Entries fees and 10 percent of sales will be donated to Cornerstones.
The exhibit will include work in a variety of mediums, including watercolor, oil, mixed media, collage and photography. Artists will donate 10 percent of proceeds from sales during the shopping event and throughout December. Cornerstones helps operate the Embry Rucker Community Shelter, Laurel Learning Center, and community services outreach.
The event has raised $13,700 for the nonprofit organization since the first exhibit was held in 1999. For more information, contact Gloria Morrow.
Forest Edge Cluster, one of the oldest clusters in Reston will celebrate its 50th anniversary tomorrow (September 22), bringing together anyone who has ever lived in the cluster.
The anniversary event will be held at Findley Hall in St. Thomas à Becket Church, the church next to the cluster. Previous celebrations have been held at Reston Community Center.
Over the last 50 years, the cluster has evolved from eleven houses known as flat tops due to their flat roofs, according to Belly Sullivan, who lives in the cluster. That style transitioned into a composite design for the 96 remaining homes on Forest Edge Drive and Greenmont Court. The cluster gets its name from the buffer of trees and creeks surrounding the neighborhood.
Two families live in the cluster from the first day: Jean Rich on Forest Ridge Drive and Bob and Lila Ensign on Greenmont Court. Other residents have stayed for more than 40 years, Sullivan said. Former residents include Emory Rucker, after whom Reston’s homeless shelter is named, and U.S. Sen. Angus King.
In past years, Robert Simon cut the cluster’s celebratory cake. After his passing, a cake donated by Edibles Incredible Desserts will be cut, ushering in another era that Sullivan hopes will “enhance the cluster’s community spirit”
Photos via Jill Silton
Beginning this month, all three of Fairfax County’s emergency centers that serve single adults instituted a “no turn-away policy.” Through March 31, the North County Human Services Building on 1850 Cameron Glen Drive will be open to individuals through the hypothermia prevention program.
Additional sleeping space will also be available at the Cornerstones’ Embry Rucker Community Shelter, a 70-bed residential shelter, throughout the winter season. Services include hot dinner, breakfast, bagged lunches, showers, laundry, bus tokens and basic self-care supplies.
On Wednesdays from 3 to 5 p.m., the organization will also provide employment services at the main shelter. The shelter, which opened in 1987, has 42 beds for families, 28 beds for unaccompanied adults and 10 beds for cold weather overflow.
If an unsheltered individual is seen at night who may be at risk of hypothermia, the Fairfax County non-emergency phone line accepts calls at 703-691-2131. Emergency personnel will determine the shelter most suitable for the individual as needed.
To volunteer or donate, please contact Susan Alger at [email protected].
The future status of the Reston Regional Library was frequently brought up by attendees of a community meeting Wednesday regarding Fairfax County’s plans for the Reston Town Center North development.
Project coordinator Joan Beacham, of the county’s Department of Public Works and Environmental Services, said both the library and the Embry Rucker Shelter will be demolished to make room for the first stage of development. DPWES hopes that construction on the project will begin in 2022.
“We want to make sure everyone understands this is a long-term development,” she said. “Things aren’t going to happen right away.”
What is planned to happen when work does begin, Beacham said, is the transfer of the library and the shelter into temporary facilities. The temporary library, she said, would top out at 6,000 square feet — a figure that caused great concern to residents, as the current library is about five times that size.
“The Reston library has over 1,000 people a day that go to it,” said Dennis Hays. “We’re talking about 1,000 Restonians a day who will not have a [full-sized] library to go to for an indeterminate amount of time.”
Hays and other residents suggested the Request for Proposals for development ask applicants to commit to building the new facilities before demolishing the existing ones. The new library, Beacham said, is planned to be 39,000 square feet and exist on the first one or two floors of a new high rise at the same location. The new shelter, planned to be more than twice the size of the current one, is proposed for a similar “urban form” layout.
In the redevelopment, the 50-acre area — bounded by Baron Cameron Avenue, Town Center Parkway, New Dominion Parkway and Fountain Drive — would be realigned into nine parcels, which would then be rezoned into urban blocks. The first two parcels slated for redevelopment are Blocks 7 and 8, which include the library and the shelter.
“We feel in order to move forward with 7 and 8, temporary facilities will be required,” Beacham said. “This is the way that public facilities are repaired and replaced all over the county — it’s not just a situation with Reston.”
Both Beacham and Supervisor Cathy Hudgins said replacing the library and shelter is a priority of the project, as they are outdated facilities in need of additional capacity.
In total, Blocks 7 and 8 are planned to include:
- 360-420 market-rate residential units and 30 county-supportive housing units
- 174,000-244,000 square feet of private retail development
- 28,000 square feet of office space for nonprofits
- the 39,000-square foot library
- a 25,000-square foot shelter
Future plans for other blocks in RTC North include the development of a 90,000-square foot recreation center by the Fairfax County Park Authority, replacement of the North County Human Services Center, and a 6-acre central green space among 10 total acres of open space. Redevelopment of the whole area is expected to take more than a decade.
Girl Scout cookies are finding good homes thanks to a Reston girl with a charitable heart.
Julia Cartwright, a member of Girl Scout Troop 753, has donated several cases of cookies each to the Reston District Station of the Fairfax County Police Department, the North Point station of Fairfax County Fire and Rescue, and the Embry Rucker Community Shelter.
Her father, Alan, said Julia is one of the top Girl Scout cookie sellers in the organization’s Nation’s Capital chapter. The 13-year-old has sold 1,113 boxes this year — all through her own work, her dad emphasized. And when people said they didn’t want any, she offered another option.
“She would ask if they’d like to make a donation to a charitable cause,” Alan said. “With those donations, she turns that into cookies and she gets to make the choice of where they go.”
The Herndon Middle School seventh-grader has done this for the past few years, her dad said. In previous years, she has donated cookies to the U.S. military. This year, she chose to help community organizations in the Reston area.
Alan said the recipients of Julia’s cookie donations this year were all very appreciative of the gesture. He said the firemen insisted on taking a picture with Julia, and the police station has forwarded her information on to the Fairfax County police chief so he can extend his gratitude.
Through her family’s church, Fairfax Church of Christ, Julia has also provided charitable donations to the Washington, D.C., homeless cause. In addition, she volunteers time removing invasive plant species at Walker Nature Center, and she and her parents are all planning to volunteer with the Embry Rucker Shelter in future as well.
“She has a heart of gold,” her father said. “She’s always trying to help others.”
Pictures courtesy Alan Cartwright
The Fairfax County Planning Department will hear presentations Thursday on the advertised FY 2018-2022 Capital Improvement Program, with a number of Reston projects on the list.
The largest local project in the plan is the reconfiguration and redevelopment of Reston Town Center North, which includes replacing and redeveloping the North County Human Services Center, as well as the Reston Regional Library and Embry Rucker Shelter. An indoor recreation center is also expected to be part of the project.
From the plan:
Reston Town Center North (Infrastructure and Blocks 7 & 8) (Hunter Mill District): Approximately $76,000,000 is proposed to rezone and develop the overall master plan that reconfigures and provides integrated redevelopment of approximately 50 acres currently owned by Fairfax County and Inova at Reston Town Center North (south of Baron Cameron Avenue between Town Center Parkway and Fountain Drive), including the replacement of Reston Regional Library, Embry Rucker Shelter, currently on this site, and development of additional facilities to accommodate Human Services needs. The plan maximizes the development potential consistent with the needs of the community and in conformance with the Comprehensive Plan Amendment approved in February 2013.
North County Human Services Center (Hunter Mill District): $125,000,000 to fund a replacement facility for the existing North County Human Services Center located in Reston. The existing facility is within the redevelopment master plan area known as Reston Town Center North which will be reconfigured for an integrated redevelopment consistent with the needs of the community and in conformance with the Comprehensive Plan Amendment approved in February 2013. The proposed North County Human Services Center will also support a consolidation of existing leased facility spaces in the service area into one Human Services site to provide enhanced and integrated multidisciplinary services to residents in the western part of the County.
The 47-acre area is bounded by Baron Cameron Avenue, Fountain Drive, Town Center Parkway and Bowman Towne Drive.
The projects are expected to be paid for by Economic Development Authority bond financing, according to the report. Approximately $10 million will be required in FY2018 to fund the county’s share of the agreement with Inova that will provide for the real estate exchange, as well as design and construction of the campus site infrastructure.
Funding of $12,000,000 was approved as part of the fall 2016 Human Services/Community Development Bond Referendum for the shelter, and $10,000,000 was approved as part of the 2012 Library Bond Referendum for the library.
Also among the five-year plan are the continuation of current plans including the Silver Line expansion, the redevelopment of the Crescent Apartments site at Lake Anne, upgrades to Reston and Fox Mill fire stations, the addition to South Lakes High School, and improvements to Reston Community Center and the natatorium.
The workshop and public hearing on the Capital Improvement Plan will be held Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Fairfax County Government Center.
Reston Town Center North map (2015) via Fairfax County
Capitol Steps, a D.C.-based political satire troupe, puts on the benefit show each year. More than 600 people attended the event Sunday night at the Hyatt Regency Reston.
“We are thrilled to see a full house, especially after this year in politics,” said Sarah Leonard, chair of Cornerstones’ Board of Directors. “You help Cornerstones accomplish our mission to encourage stability, empowerment and hope. It takes thousands to help within our connected community and for each of you we are grateful.”
At the end of the night, a total of $294,697 had been raised for the cause. According to information provided by Cornerstones, that money will be used “to meet critical needs of those in the [Embry Rucker] shelter as they progress toward affordable housing.”
Since 1970, Cornerstones has reached out to 250,000 neighbors in need, helping them overcome tough economic times in an already high cost-of-living region. Through advocacy and support services, it connects its clients to the resources they need to help build more stable families and self-sufficient lives. It also strives to provide a comprehensive array of programs that solve urgent or on-going requirements for housing, childcare, food or financial assistance.
Photo courtesy Chip McCrea Photography
Virginia Governor-elect Terry McAuliffe and family spent part of Thanksgiving Day serving breakfast at Reston’s Embry Rucker Community Shelter.
“Governor-elect Terry McAuliffe, wife Dorothy and children were there to learn firsthand about the daily challenges of people who are homeless– and the work of the many extraordinary nonprofits and Fairfax County Office to Prevent and End Homelessness in finding solutions,” said Kerrie Wilson, CEO of Cornerstones, the local nonprofit that operates the shelter.
“These are hard times for many in our community, but every day we see people willing to come together and offer a hand,” she said. “Volunteering is not something new for the McAuliffe family, but it was a generous gift that reflects the importance of these issues and gave hope to those under our roof.”
McAuliffe will be sworn in in January.
Wilson also said she commends outgoing Gov. Bob McDonnell for his work helping the homeless. McDonnell was the first sitting Governor in Virginia to establish a committee on affordable housing and homelessness, she notes.
“While not all of these recommendations were funded, much of the policy/strategy level work has been implemented through some of the priority setting and state level contracting for homeless services, a Virginia Housing Trust Fund was established and some initial seed funding from the mortgage settlement provided a start (it needs real funding),” Wilson said. “I hope that among the many areas that Governor-elect McAuliffe and his family will embrace – as they discussed on the campaign trail – hunger/food insecurity, mental health, homeless/workforce housing – can build on these efforts.”
Photos courtesy of Cornerstones.