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Site Moves Forward

As the rain began to fall last Friday morning, men standing at the 7-Eleven on the corner of Alabama Drive and Elden Street looked for cover.

Some stood under a florescent light that hung along the side of the building, it offered little protection. Others ran to nearby trees, while some went home, giving up for the day.

Realizing they had no other chance for work, the majority of the men stayed on site, letting the rain soak their heavy construction clothes.

This is a common occurrence at what has become the town's unofficial day-labor gathering site. Men looking for work have nowhere to go for protection if the weather takes a turn for the worse.

But, with the approval of a regulated day-labor site last week by the Town Council, the men know it will not be long before they have adequate protection against the elements.

"In the winter, here we crawl up on big mounds of snow so we suffer a great deal from the cold," said Eviltrudis Aguilera, a Herndon resident who has found work at the 7-Eleven for the last three years, through translation by Jorge Rochac.

"The new site location will be much better," said the Honduran native. "There will be bathrooms near by, here we don't have facilities of any kind."

The men on-site are also excited for the opportunity to prove stereotypes wrong and show the community they are committed to making this work, said Nery Vargas also a native of Honduras, through translation.

"I am happy, very, very happy," he said about the council's decision. "We have been fighting for this because we want to work."

AFTER HEARING TWO days' worth of public testimony, the Town Council voted 5-2, with members Ann Null and Dennis Husch opposing, to approve an application for a regulated day-labor pickup site to be run in town.

Submitted by Project Hope and Harmony, a group comprised of Herndon residents, faith-based and nonprofit organizations wanting to create a better solution for the current day-labor situation, the application became national news.

Currently residents looking for day work unofficially gather at the 7-Eleven on the corner of Alabama Drive and Elden Street in Herndon. Neighbors of the unofficial site have complained about trespassing, litter and other nuisance crimes and safety issues that they feel are associated with the site. Others have expressed concerns about entering the parking lot for fear workers will come up to their car seeking employment.

Because of these concerns, in addition to wanting to give the workers a safe place to find work, the group proposed turning the parking lot of the now vacated, former Herndon Police Station into a regulated pickup site.

When the application was made public through the town's governmental process, residents came forward listing many reasons for their opposition or support of a regulated site in town.

"There are those who say 'if you build it they will come'," said Council Member Carol Bruce at the end of the Aug. 17 public hearing. "I say we've built nothing and they're here."

With the approval of the application, order can be placed on a currently unorganized situation, said Bruce.

"Day labor does not exist in Herndon because we have rolled out the welcome mat, because we have the Neighborhood Resource Center, because we have the Herndon Free Clinic," she said. "Day labor exists in Herndon for the same reason it exists everywhere else ... because there are jobs and because there is affordable housing."

THROUGH THE TWO-DAY process, 120 citizens spoke before the council.

With a high number of no-shows the second night, the council was able to make its decision before midnight.

"I'm not surprised, we expected it would go through," said Bob Rudine, Herndon resident. "We are disappointed, of course." As a member of the unofficial group "Help Save Herndon," created by residents opposed to the creation of a regulated site, Rudine has been the unofficial spokesman.

Group members do not believe the police station is the right location for the regulated site because of the surrounding residential neighborhoods, he said.

But, as an Alabama Drive resident, Rudine would benefit from the relocation of workers. Although he does not think a move will deter people from hanging out in front of the store, or on his property.

"I do not feel this will solve the problems at 7-Eleven," he said. "These people are not dumb, they will find ways to circumvent the antisolicitation laws."

By approving the application, the council made a condition that the site could not operate until antisolicitation and trespass ordinances were approved. Those are just two tools the town plans to use to ensure the success of the regulated site, said Mayor Michael O'Reilly.

"I think we made the right decision," he said the day after the hearing. "The Town Council and staff will work together to move forward in the community."

During its September work sessions and public hearings, the council will review a draft of the town attorney's antisolicitation and trespass ordinances, said O'Reilly. He will also meet with local business owners around the unofficial site, to educate them about the ordinances and encourage them to enforce the laws by calling police if people begin to gather on their private property. Town staff will also begin working on a proposed Public Response Plan that details how community concerns will be addressed and hopefully alleviated, said O'Reilly.

Project Hope and Harmony members are also planning their educational outreach to the men on-site and employers. The focus will be on compliance with the proposed ordinances and ensure success at the new site, said Bill Threlkeld, site director for Project Hope and Harmony.

"We wanted them to approve the application and they did and we are pleased with the decision," he said. "We asked people to believe in what we wanted to do, now we have to do it."

During the hearing process, residents said they were concerned the workers would not walk the extra distance from the 7-Eleven Ñ situated in the center of town Ñ to the police station Ñ located on the border of Loudoun County.

"It was a long walk from my country to here," said Vargas, about the almost 3,000-mile trip. "So, from here to the police station is no problem."