Helping with the plight of the homeless during the approaching winter months is a community-wide effort. That's the message from Captain Michael Kline, commander of the Mount Vernon District Station, Fairfax County Police.
"While this season brings wonderful thoughts of the upcoming holiday season and the hopes of a prosperous and exciting new year, for most of us who live, work and play along the Route 1 corridor, this is also a time when evidence of the homeless community becomes more obvious," Kline recently stated in a letter asking for "A Little Tolerance for the Homeless."
As he noted, during most of the year, when the weather is warmer, "these folks tend to stay hidden from our eyesight by embedding themselves in encampments in the woods." That changes when temperatures dip below 32 degrees on cold winter nights.
Both the Eleanor Kennedy Shelter, which has a no turn-away policy, and a special Hypothermia Shelter at Rising Hope United Methodist Mission Church are filled to overflow capacity many winter nights. The later is operated through a collaboration of New Hope Housing and Ventures In Community through a partnership with area churches that provide volunteer staff.
"Because these shelter allow the homeless to remain only from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m, you will begin to see more of our homeless congregate in shopping centers and at bus stops during daylight hours. Allow for a little tolerance during the approaching winter months," Kline requested.
"Don't call the police to have them moved along. There is truly no place for the police department to move them. The jails are already filled with real criminals and making arrests of homeless folks who are just loitering, becomes counterproductive," he said.
KLINE ALSO POINTED OUT that many homeless suffer from substance abuse and/or mental illness. Fairfax County's Department of Human Services has homeless outreach workers who are part of a special unit known as PATH, Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness. They are part of the Fairfax County-Falls Church Community Services Board.
Outreach workers can be reached by calling 703-799-2761, 703-799-2769, 703-531-6280 or by calling the Fairfax County Coordinated Services at 703-222-0880 Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. or Crisis Link after 4:40 p.m. On weekends they can be reached at 703-527-4077.
"This workforce is better trained to evaluate the needs of those
who might have a substance abuse problem or mental illness. They are more suited to address the chronic problems of folks who are malingering in the community and not engaged in overt criminal activity," Kline said.
He also provided a warning to help the homeless community rather than aid their possible substance abuse problems. "Do not provide them with money if they are panhandling. By giving panhandlers money you only reinforce this unlawful behavior and encourage a very dangerous act of walking in and out of hazardous roadways," he said.
"There are plenty of places that accept donations who will provide services to this population. I know when citizens give money directly to an individual the assumption is that the money will be used for a meal or lodging," Kline said.
"My experience has shown that many times that money is used to support a substance abuse problem. Coordinated Services can assist with local non-profits who will accept donations and who provide positive assistance to the homeless," he said.
The Hypothermia Shelter at Rising Hope Church on Russell Road is scheduled to operate this winter season from Dec. 3 to March 31. The Eleanor Kennedy Shelter, located on Route 1 just south of Backlick Road, operates year round.