In light of public outcry over the proposed inclusion of a drop-in center for the homeless at the new Good Shepherd Alliance headquarters in Ashburn, the Board of Supervisors voted to have the county take over the existing drop-in site in Leesburg. Good Shepherd agreed to strike plans for such a center at the Ashburn site, which will include the nonprofit organization’s administrative offices and thrift store.
The purpose of moving the headquarters was to save money by consolidating Good Shepherd’s services, said executive director Lyle Werner at the Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday, Nov. 20. The thrift store had been located in Sterling. She said that the drop-in center, where the homeless can shower, cook meals and wash clothes on a self-serve basis, costs very little to run as part of an existing location.
The county will spend about $2,300 a month to rent the Leesburg location and will have to hire staff and make changes to the building to bring it into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. In order to cover the cost, the county will cut some of the funding it has provided for Good Shepherd.
SOME BOARD members expressed concern that the county government would be unable to run the center as well as Good Shepherd. Supervisors Mick Stanton (R-Sugarland Run), Steve Snow (R-Dulles) and Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling) voted against the motion, made by Supervisor Lori Waters (R-Broad Run), to take over the center.
Snow said that the government would be subject to more liabilities and procedural hurdles than a private nonprofit organization.
"The best caregivers and caretakers are those that make a life choice of doing that," he said. He suggested that Good Shepherd try operating the drop-in center in Ashburn and he offered the county’s help if any problems arose.
As for the community outcry, Snow said he had also heard people saying they didn’t want affordable housing in their district or townhouses near their million-dollar homes. "I don’t want, I don’t want, I don’t want," he said. "Here are people who want," he said of the homeless that would use the site.
Stanton said he was uncomfortable with the county stepping into the role of a charity and Delgaudio said he disagreed with any county contributions to regional organizations.
Supervisor Jim Clem (R-Leesburg) said he wanted to see more done for the homeless in Loudoun. He said that there is no men’s shelter and said he would like to see the Douglass School, near the current Good Shepherd headquarters in Leesburg, become a center for local nonprofits, with a shelter established in conjunction with the school.
"This really needs to be a collective effort," he said, adding that the Town of Leesburg, the county and the private sector should work together on the issue of homelessness. Of the county’s adoption of the drop-in site, Clem said, "I will support the motion, but I think we need to address this issue on a bigger scale."
"The bottom line is that this property you bought in Ashburn is not the right place," Supervisor Bruce Tulloch (R-Potomac) told Good Shepherd representatives, adding that the population the organization serves is primarily in the Leesburg and Sterling areas and that there was no bus stop within a mile of the site. He wondered why Good Shepherd had spent close to $2 million on such a location and said he feared the organization was changing and "losing its way."
"You’re almost like a chameleon on a plaid blanket," said Tulloch, noting that the county had given the organization some $321,000 in recent years, while Good Shepherd had pared down its mission. "As your money went up, your mission went down," he said.
IN DEFENSE of the organization, Werner said that the mortgage on the new headquarters was significantly less than the rent at the building in Leesburg and that those who would have used the drop-in site would have at least been transported to the location once a week to meet with their case managers. She said Good Shepherd had reduced its mission to one of helping families because it had to close its men’s shelter in Ashburn due to complaints from neighbors.
Waters, in whose district the new site is located, wanted assurance that Good Shepherd would remove any features from the building that would support a drop-in site and was assured by Werner that the organization was "absolutely" making some changes to the site plan, including scaling back the kitchen and taking out lockers and most of the showers.
Waters also made motions to create a grant process requiring nonprofits to account for money they receive from the county and to require county staff to occasionally drop in on such organizations. The latter motion died for lack of a second, but the first passed, with Stanton, Snow and Delgaudio again voting in the negative.
"To force everybody to jump through brand new hoops because of a perceived wrongdoing by an organization that’s been working in the county for 20 years and doing an excellent job of it, is lunacy," said Stanton. He added that he had been "shocked" by accusations from some Ashburn residents that Good Shepherd might be misusing its funding.
Supervisor Sally Kurtz (D-Catoctin) said a grant process should allow the nonprofits to set their own priorities and would provide a means to make sure they all had their needs met and Tulloch said he thought it would protect nonprofits from undue criticism.
Chairman Scott York (I) said he would support an approval process for grants, so long as it not "make it cumbersome for an organization to come to this board and justify the funds that are going out."
OTHER DECISIONS made by the Board of Supervisors’ meeting last Tuesday include:
* Approving the formation of a Waxpool Task Force to examine transportation-related issues in the Waxpool Road corridor.
* Authorizing a public hearing on the renaming of roads with multiple names.
* Approving the rezoning of about 40 acres in order to develop the northern section of Dulles Parkway Center as a transit-oriented development. The new portion of the development would include up to 624 multifamily units and 600,000 square feet of office and retail uses.
* Approving an amendment to the concept plan for Loudoun Corporate Center that would allow areas previously designated for office use to be developed as either hotel or offices. The site is on about 7 acres of land southwest of the intersection of Old Ox Road and Shaw Road.