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Winter Relief for Homeless

Fairfax County and Reston Interfaith collaborate to open a hypothermia shelter.

Starting Jan. 1, the homeless population near Reston will receive a little extra relief from the cold winter nights. Fairfax County, in collaboration with Reston Interfaith, will open a hypothermia prevention center that will run through the end of March.

"This is a part of a bigger strategy," said Marte Birnbaum, director of the Embry Rucker Community Shelter. "The county began to develop a 10-year strategy, to find new ways and new methods to end homelessness."

The 10-year strategy, also known as the Plan to End Homelessness, is a community-led initiative. "It's not just managing homelessness, but also ending it," said Patti Stevens, the North County Regional Director for Human Services. She said the hypothermia center is a part of that strategy, and the site in Reston is the third of its kind in Fairfax County.

The hypothermia prevention center will open for the first time in the Reston area. It will provide roughly 25 beds in the North County Human Services Building. Birnbaum said the center will help Embry Rucker — a year-round homeless shelter ran by Reston Interfaith — deal with the seasonal overflow. "In the winter [the shelter] ends up bursting at the seam," said Birnbaum of the demand for services in the 70-bed shelter. "[The hypothermia center] will help relieve some overcrowding," she said.

Mary Supley Foxworth, communications and outreach manager at Reston Interfaith, said the hypothermia center will open in the evening, and will provide its guests with dinner at the time of a check-in. Before being released the following day, the guests will be given breakfast and a bagged lunch. The guests will check in on a first-come first-serve basis each evening. Supley Foxworth said Reston Interfaith was in need of volunteer to help staff the center, prepare the meals and entertain the guests. "Here in the Reston-Herndon area, we have always received tremendous support from the community," said Supley Foxworth.

ALTHOUGH THE CENTER will open for the first time in the Reston area, other parts of the county have run hypothermia prevention centers for the past two years. Birnbaum said the feedback received from those other centers was that the work is both challenging and rewarding. She added that the space for other centers in the county is usually found in churches, as opposed to county administrative buildings. "It's a very busy building," said Birnbaum about the building that will host the center in Reston. However, she said, the county was able to find a corner within the building that could accommodate those seeking shelter from the cold winter nights.

According to Stevens, the room in the building was made available when the Reston-Herndon Senior Center moved to a new building. The vacancy allowed the county to set up a multi-use room, which it will use for senior activities. However, said Stevens, the room had not been reserved yet, and so it became available for the hypothermia center. Since the hypothermia center is evening-oriented, Stevens said the space would be used for senior center activities during the day.

Birnbaum said that the recent, unseasonably warm, weather experienced in the area is dangerous for the homeless population. "In our area weather shifts so quickly [that] people do not have time to find a foxhole," she said.

Birnbaum also warned that there is a slow and steady increase of the number of homeless in the area. She said that trend is not only present in this area, but that it is a national trend and a national problem.