When Kenny Chamblin ended up in a hospital last fall, he had no idea it was the first turn down a road to homelessness.
Chamblin, a guest at the Lamb Center in Fairfax, lost his job because of health problems. He was no longer an assistant manager at the Kingstowne Safeway supermarket; instead he was a man looking for a place to go.
“Without [the Lamb Center], I’d be out on a street corner,” said Chamblin.
The City of Fairfax attempted to move the Lamb Center — a faith-based day shelter that provides food, job assistance and counseling to the homeless or needy — to Merrifield. The City Council voted to put up $2.6 million to purchase a building there, and neighboring residents united in opposition to stop the deal. The city backed out of the purchase agreement at its Tuesday, Jan. 9, City Council meeting, and now the Lamb Center is back to square one.
“The Lamb Center still needs a location for the Lamb Center,” said Bob Wyatt, executive director of the center.
Talk surrounding a possible location at the Fairfax County Justice Center, just off Chain Bridge Road and Main Street, has surfaced. Wyatt said if that goes through, it would serve as a supplemental location to the actual Lamb Center — it would not replace the Lamb Center.
“It was just a concept that the county has not yet fully discussed,” said City Manager Bob Sisson.
City Councilmember Scott Silverthorne said that location just wouldn’t make sense, and that nothing really does at this point.
“It’s becoming a point of frustration,” said Silverthorne.
CHAMBLIN JUST WANTS people to understand why most of the guests are there. It isn’t because of drug addiction or alcoholism; it’s because he found himself unable to work and had nobody to turn to. Everyone’s situation is different, he said, but all of the guests at the center are there to better their lives.
“A lot of people in these areas, they don’t understand where these [Lamb Center guests] are coming from,” said Chamblin. “Some day, their time is going to come.”
Chamblin found himself confronting severe lung and heart problems, just before he was to qualify for health insurance at his job. He is not in contact with his family, and had nowhere to go. He now lives at a medical shelter in Reston, and has case managers there helping him try to obtain low-income housing.
He comes back to the Lamb Center each day because he likes the people. He trusts the staff and volunteers, and said he feels safe there. His first disability check is scheduled to arrive at the center this week, since he uses it at his mailing address.
“We never got to a place where we defined who we are to the public,” said Wyatt. “We don’t invite people to sit and be homeless.”
City Councilmembers have not met since their decision to halt the Merrifield deal Jan. 9, but Silverthorne said everyone is committed to finding an alternate location.
“I believe that the city and the county, in good faith, want to find a workable location for the overcrowding problem at the Lamb Center,” said Silverthorne. “The city is very, very small, and we have exhausted the options that we think make sense in our city limits.”
When members of the Merrifield Citizen’s Association — the group of neighbors who mobilized in opposition to the relocation site proposed in their community — spoke out at two City Council meetings, they offered their time and energy to help find a better location. Silverthorne said the city happily accepts that offer and hopes to work together to explore new ideas.
“We’re going to remain active on this and continue to follow this,” said Ekrem Sarper, president of the MCA.
A few members attended the Providence District Council meeting, Tuesday, Jan. 16 [see story page 3].
JAMES WARE IS another guest who uses the services at the Lamb Center. Like Chamblin, he was not a drug addict or an alcoholic. He is a man who moved to Pennsylvania because of a relationship he was in, and when it didn’t work out, he left everything he had and came back to Virginia. Ware has a car so he drives to the center to eat, do laundry and bathe. He said he’s been coming for years, and values the program and what it has done for him.
“They have helped me rise on my feet,” said Ware. “This is a really good place. Without it, there would be a lot of lost souls out here.”
Ware just finished working a seasonal job in pest control. He is out of work again, but stays in good spirits by doing what he can to help others. He uses his car to drive older guests to and from the hypothermia shelters or their drop-off and pick-up locations. When he’s working and doing better, he still comes to the Lamb Center.
“Maybe I can be an inspiration for some of [the guests],” he said.
Both Ware and Chamblin said the Lamb Center doesn’t tolerate guests who aren’t serious about getting their lives on track. They turn them away, and they aren’t welcome back until they make some adjustments.
“Some people are interested in getting their lives together, and some people just aren’t,” he said.
Wyatt said those who are turned away go back to wherever they came from. The Merrifield residents feared that they would end up in the surrounding neighborhoods, but Wyatt said that just isn’t true.
“If you kick someone out of here, where do they go? I can’t answer that, but I can tell you they don’t hang around,” said Wyatt.
Any new proposed locations will likely face similar opposition, said Wyatt. People are afraid of the unknown, said Dave Larrabee, director at the Lamb Center. “You never know why a person is in the situation they’re in.”
Wyatt wants the search for a larger location to continue. He also said it’s important that people understand the Lamb Center is part of the solution to homelessness. It’s a place that teaches responsibility to people who have found themselves in tough and tragic situations, he said.
“You can’t judge everyone by what you see out on the streets,” said Ware. “Without this place, it would be really bad out here."