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Katherine Hanley Family Shelter Breaks Ground

At Sunday afternoon's groundbreaking for the family shelter that will bear her name, Katherine K. "Kate" Hanley spoke of one of her fondest wishes.

"My dream is that someday, a young girl and her mother will be leaving the shelter, and the girl will ask her mother, 'Who was Katherine Hanley?'" said Hanley. "And her mother will answer, 'I don't have any idea, but she must have been someone who was part of a community that cared."

THE 100 or so people attending the ceremony then rose and gave her a standing ovation. Hanley is the new Secretary of the Commonwealth of Virginia and a former chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

Acknowledging the county's three other homeless shelters — Robert Mondloch, Embrey Rucker and Eleanor Kennedy — she said each was named "for these role models and community builders, and I have a lot of work to do before I'm their equal. It's an incredible honor to have this shelter named after me. It will be a place where people can live in safety and harmony and with optimism for their children's future."

This new shelter will serve the western part of the county, providing temporary housing mainly for women and young children. The $6.6 million facility is being constructed between the Hampton Forest and Stringfellow Road intersections on Route 29. And by summer 2007, it will open its doors to 20 families (no more than 60 people at a time).

Adults staying there will be expected to go to work or prepare for and seek employment. Children will attend local schools or be in day care. Transportation will be provided, and clients will receive case management, job training and other social services.

Currently, the wait to get into a county shelter is "between three and four months," said Belinda Busher, spokeswoman for the county's Department of Family Services. So, said Kathy Froyd, also with that entity, "We're delighted [another shelter's being built]. This is an important part of our ending-homelessness effort."

Springfield District Planning Commissioner Pete Murphy called Sunday a "great day — the first in a series of great days. Today we're going to break ground; the next time we gather here, we'll be cutting a ribbon. And we're more than pleased to have this in the Springfield District. This home will provide a new beginning for families who need some assistance from the county and from their fellow man."

JANE KORNBLUT, chairman of the ad hoc committee of the Council on homelessness, hopes that — in the future — this shelter would only be needed for emergencies because homelessness would no longer be a problem here and people would have "moved on to permanent homes."

But for now, she said, "It'll help homeless people out here stay in their own communities. You don't want to displace people from their community, particularly if they have children in school."

Also attending the groundbreaking were County Executive Tony Griffin, Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerry Connolly, Supervisors Elaine McConnell (Springfield District), Penny Gross (Mason), Sharon Bulova (Braddock) and Linda Smyth (Providence), Delegates Ken Plum (D-36th) and Dave Marsden (D-41st), Planning Commissioners Jim Hart (At-large) and Ron Koch (Sully), county Fire Chief Michael Neuhard and police Capt. Amy Lubas, commander of the Fair Oaks District Station.

Taking the podium first, McConnell acknowledged all the people who "worked so hard to make this day happen." Among them were the members of Girl Scout Troop 4404, which meets at the Sully District Governmental Center, and which collected 1,500 books for the children who'll be in the new shelter.

Their leader, Robin Lynn of Centreville's Sully Station II community, said the girls did it for their silver award and hope to have a "long-term relationship" with the shelter, including activities such as story hours there.

They're still collecting new books, and anyone wishing to contribute may e-mail Lynn at robinl@nextel.blackberry.net. "The kids will be able to take the books with them when they leave the shelter," she said. "So we'll continually need to replenish them."

McConnell also thanked the Junior League, which has volunteered to decorate some of the rooms in the shelter; the neighbors who supported its location in their neighborhood — including Equity Homes, building the adjacent residential community; and the West Group, which proffered $1 million. Said McConnell: "This facility will be an asset to this part of the county and a benefit to the mothers and young children who'll use it."

Chairman Connolly said this shelter's been a long time coming. "This Board made homelessness one of its priorities," he said. "We recently had a homelessness summit, and we want to end homelessness here within 10 years."

He said Fairfax County currently has 2,077 homeless people; 55 percent of them are in families and 724 are children. And 40 percent of the adults are employed.

Connolly said the county's Homeless Oversight Committee first recommended a fourth shelter in March 2000. It would be for temporary stays while staff worked to find the occupants permanent, affordable housing so they could get back on their feet and become productive.

"SOMEONE WHO was a champion of this cause was Kate Hanley," said Connolly. "And the Board later passed a unanimous resolution to name the shelter after her."

Hanley said that, although the Board knew for quite some time that another shelter was needed, things didn't crystallize until spring 2002. At the time, the members were listening to citizens' and groups' funding priorities during county budget hearings.

"A lady came forward and said, 'These things are all important, but all of us here have a home to go to when this meeting is finished,'" related Hanley. "'Just imagine if you had nowhere to go and you had to sleep in your car, or shuttle from place to place and have your children change schools all the time.'"

Most people can find a job in Fairfax County, said Hanley, but it's much tougher finding an affordable home. "The community had been giving us advice [about this problem] for years, and it was time to finally take it," she said. So she made some calls and learned that the county's Housing Trust Fund contained some undesignated, unallocated funds.

"So I proposed we take $1 million from it, plus the $1 million West Group proffer and start a fourth shelter," she said. "The Board [later] added to it and kept doing that."

Hanley then thanked the Supervisors, Tony Griffin and the faith community for their support, as well as McConnell "who inherited this project when the area was redistricted," and Hunter Mill Supervisor Cathy Hudgins, chairman of the Board's housing subcommittee, "who supported using Housing Trust Fund dollars for it." She also thanked Connolly for explaining the project to the West Group "in terms they understood."

The Supervisors presented her with a photo plaque showing what the completed shelter will look like, and then Hanley and the other dignitaries grabbed shovels and scooped up the rich, brown dirt to officially kick off construction.

Also present was Jim Brigl, the new CEO of FACETS (Fairfax Area Christian Emergency & Transitional Services Inc.). For almost 18 years, FACETS has worked with homeless and low-income people in public housing, providing case management and referrals.

"We have 80 faith partners who provide almost 40,000 hot meals a year to homeless people in Fairfax County — people living in motels, in the woods and on the streets," he said. "And this winter, we led the effort with the county and 25 churches to provide shelter for homeless singles."

FACETS also works with families on the waiting list for shelters, helping them find schools for their children and jobs for themselves so they can become independent. That's why the new Kate Hanley Shelter will be such a valuable addition for them. Said Brigl: "This will give them an opportunity to move to a single place with a lot of services, instead of being disrupted and having to move from place to place."