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Coming In from The Cold

Fairfax County hosts hypothermia meeting to address shelters’ concerns.

Fast Facts about Fairfax County’s Hypothermia Prevention Program

*During the 2010-2011 winter season, approximately 1,025 residents sought shelter through Fairfax County’s Hypothermia Prevention Program, in partnership with other agencies.

*During the 2011-2012 winter season, partners opened their shelters to "no turn-away" status on Nov. 1, even if the weather was not at freezing temperatures.

*FACETS’ Hypothermia Prevention Season is Nov. 21 through March 17. FACETS served more than 219 clients last season.

*Volunteers of America Chesapeake (VOA) Baileys Crossroad’s Hypothermia Program served more than 442 clients last season and an additional 84 clients in their other winter seasonal programs for a total of 526 clients.

*Reston Interfaith’s Embry Rucker Community Shelter (ERCS) operates three separate winter programs. The ERCS Winter North County Program and winter seasonal programs served over 298 clients last season.

*The Homeless Healthcare Program (HHP) has four nurse practitioners from the Fairfax County Health Department providing free flu shots during Hypothermia Prevention season.

For more information on Fairfax County’s Hypothermia Prevention Program, go to http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/homeless/partnerupdate/partnership-highlights-hyposeason2011-12.htm

Fairfax County officials met with about 75 representatives from churches and other houses of worship Sunday, April 22, to address rumors and concerns that the County’s Fire Marshal will shut down their hypothermia programs next winter - and shut out many homeless residents - because of fire code violations.

Held at St. Stephens United Methodist Church in Burke, the information session was hosted by county staff, elected officials and nonprofit partners. Panelists included Amanda Andere, executive director of FACETS; Kerri Wilson, executive director of Reston Interfaith and Deputy County Executive Patricia Harrison.

"I think the bottom line is that the fire marshal’s office will work individually with houses of worship to make sure they are safe and up to code," said Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova (D-At-large), who called Sunday’s meeting.

"In some cases, it might be as simple as a installing a smoke detector or carbon monoxide detector," she said.

Currently, about 35 houses of worship provide shelter to approximately 1,000 homeless residents during the winter months. Each year, various churches, synagogues, mosques and temples take turns providing space to provide food and shelter for the homeless population during the winter months. Last year, there were no hypothermia-related deaths reported during the season.

Supervisor Cathy Hudgins (D- Hunter Mill), who has been a longtime advocate for the county’s homeless population, said she wants to see the county maintain a partnership with the faith community in a safe environment.

"But the more critical issue is how will we eliminate or reduce hyperthermia without the needed housing? Our faith partners are looking to us to do the heavy lifting by providing the housing so they can support the county by serving the clients," Hudgins said.

Sunday’s meeting was prompted by concerns from some church leaders that they would be forced to shut down their programs due to fire code violations.

On Monday, April 16, the Rev. Keary Kincannon of Rising Hope Mission Church in Alexandria sent out a press release stating the county will close 18 of 36 churches that host a hypothermia program.

"Nine churches will not be allowed to bring the homeless in from the cold under any circumstances. An additional nine require extensive work to correct code violations that may cost hundreds of thousands of dollars," Kincannon said in the release.

Last week, Bulova said four houses of worship may be affected by their inability to comply with fire codes, not 18, and stressed Fairfax County’s longstanding support of the Hypothermia Prevention Program.

"I have been working with County staff to make sure safety concerns that arose during this program year are addressed before the 2012-2013 program begins," Bulova said in an email announcing Sunday’s session.

"I am committed to finding solutions that do not put undue burden on houses of worship but still provide adequate safety for the vulnerable population that relies on the Hypothermia Program during the winter months."

Supervisor John Cook (R-Braddock), who attended Sunday’s meeting and met with faith representatives last week, said part of the concern was that some churches heard they were on the list (for code violations), but didn’t know why.

"There was a real interest in churches to counter the rumor mill," Cook said. "The meeting was a good step in that regard."

Cook said other localities, such as Richmond and Virginia Beach, have encountered similar issues because the fire code is a state-wide set of regulations enacted by the General Assembly but enforced by local jurisdictions. Tensions arise because each jurisdiction has some discretion when interpreting the codes.

"Everyone has to take deep breath, and recognize that we have to work through a process," Cook said. "But there’s a significant commitment and confidence on the county’s part that we can work through these issues."

"Fairfax County has a unique partnership with our faith communities and non-profits. We are committed to serving the homeless population in a way that is compassionate and ensures their safety," Bulova said.