The Alexandria Residential Care Home will become a mentor foster home but City Council has also committed to finding a facility for a Safe Haven program.
The ARCH facility is located at 716 and 718 N. Columbus and has been used to house elderly residents who need fulltime nursing care. The Commission on Aging recommended closing the facility because it could no longer meet the needs of the population that it was intended to serve.
On Tuesday night, City Council looked at three proposals for the two townhomes. One proposal was to turn the facility into a mentor foster home for four foster children. Another was to use the facility for a new Safe Haven program that would serve chronically homeless, dual-diagnosed individuals who are suffering from mental illness and possibly are addicted to drugs. The third proposal would have converted the two houses to low-income home ownership opportunities.
“Both the Safe Haven proposal and the mentor foster home proposal are very good programs,” said Mayor Kerry J. Donley. “I do think it is important, though, that the city retain ownership of this property.”
COUNCIL MEMBERS asked about the small number of foster children that the mentor foster home will house. “The state regulations say that there can only be four children to one mentor,” explained Beverly Steele, the interim director of the department of human services.
Councilman David Speck had several questions about the Safe Haven program. He asked, “Are there other programs like this in the area and where are they located?”
Michael Gilmore, the director of the Department of Mental Health Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse Services responded. “There are two,” he said. “One is in Arlington and one is in Fairfax.”
Those two programs are located in residential areas and serve six and eight adults, respectively.
“What about putting the Safe Haven program at Mill Road,” Speck asked.
Gilmore did not believe this would work. “We just don’t believe that these clients would go to the program if it is located there,” he said. “The idea of Safe Haven is to locate a program in a residential neighborhood so that it is a home-like atmosphere. It would be very difficult to make the Mill Road facility seem home-like.”
NEIGHBORS HAVE expressed some opposition to the Safe Haven program. “I do not believe that we can sit up here and make a decision for a neighborhood,” said Councilman William D. Euille. “We must have buy-in for the program, whatever it is, to be successful. This neighborhood is on the edge and is coming back gradually. I am going to support the mentor foster home because the neighbors have indicated that this is something they can accept.”
Councilwoman Joyce Woodson disagreed. “As the mother of a 17-year-old, I cannot support putting foster children in a neighborhood where there is an open-air drug market,” she said.
In the end, Councilwoman Claire Eberwein asked staff to look for appropriate facilities where a Safe Haven program could be located. “Both of these populations are deserving of services,” she said. “The final motion reflected this.”