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Ending Homelessness Plan Triggers Heated Debate

Beeman Commission report postponed until January

A detailed plan to end homelessness in Fairfax County by December 31, 2018 was presented Tuesday night to the Route One Task Force For Human Services. It met with both resounding endorsement and unbridled skepticism by those in attendance at the South County Government Center.

Verdia Haywood, deputy county executive, Human Services, laid out the details of the 10 year plan as created by the 100 member Implementation Committee to Prevent and End Homelessness. It was first unveiled Monday before the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

"I am very encouraged with where this effort is going. I think we are going to make light year changes in this effort," said Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerald Hyland in his introduction of Haywood.

However, that lofty prediction was not shared by several homeless people attending the Task Force meeting. They questioned not only the plan but also the County's sincerity is actually trying to solve the homelessness problem that is growing -- both locally and nationwide.

"We are really taking this effort seriously. There are many 10 year plans across the country that do not seem to be serious. They seem to be fulfilling a need just to produce a report," Haywood told the Task Force which is composed of representative from an array of charitable agencies throughout southeastern Fairfax County.

"This plan embraces a housing first approach. Today's goal is to get people ready for housing. Tomorrow's goal is to get people into housing," he said.

"This housing first approach has a very strong emphasis on permanent housing and all that goes with that. The plan also calls for a very strong support mechanism including, employment, health and other factors," Haywood emphasized.

He also revealed that the plans for the Board of Supervisors to create a Office to End Homeless. The committee would like to see that operational by August 2008, according to Haywood. "We will be asking for formal Board (BOS) approval in March," he said.

HOWEVER, it was the creation of that new agency that seemed to draw the most ire from those in attendance that are experiencing and have experienced homelessness. "We are not interested in you creating another agency. All you are trying to do is expand the bureaucracy," the group clamored almost in chorus.

As one of the group pointed out there are many homes in Northern Virginia going into foreclosure. They wanted to know if Haywood and his committee was even aware of that fact or if they had done anything to put that into their plans.

Citing successes in various other parts of the nation, Haywood insisted that the "Housing First" approach was "unique" and would enable the County to reach its 10 year goal. That was met with the accusation from the homeless, "You don't listen to us. We are not heard."

In explaining why the committee adopted the housing first approach, Haywood cited four basic reasons:It costs less than institutional housing. Services can be provided more effectively.People respond better in a more dignified environment

Community costs of health care and law enforcement decrease

But, the emotional sensitivities and complexities of the homelessness problem came into full view when Task Force Convener Anne Andrews attempted to cut off the homelessness discussion in order to move on to the second presentation scheduled for the meeting -- a status report on the work of the Josiah H. Beeman Commission.

Established by the County Board of Supervisors to advise them on the future direction and design of the County's mental health services delivery system, the Commission's interim report summarizes their work since being established last February.

That presentation never took place because many attendees wished to continue the homelessness debate with Haywood and effectively shouted down Andrews' efforts to close off discussion. It was decided the Beeman Commission report would be postponed until the Task Force's January meeting.