To the Editor:
Sunday April 22, at St. Stephens UMC in Burke, Fairfax County officials and elected supervisors (including Board Chair Sharon Bulova) met with over 200 volunteers from 36 church-based hypothermia shelters to ease our anxieties. We have heard rumor that the fire marshal has determined that 18 of these churches will not be able to open and operate their “hypothermia” ministry next year as they had in the past. This puts the hundreds of homeless individuals who use these facilities at risk of frostbite, hypothermia and death.
It was a very unsatisfying meeting and the county’s unwillingness to share specifics left me angry. I had seen a chart supposedly prepared by the fire marshal that listed nine church shelters that would be prohibited from opening and nine shelters that that would require extensive code repairs costing perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars. All the churches present at this meeting were there because they had heard rumor of the closings as well. But when publicly asked which church programs will be affected and what code violations must be repaired, Robert Stalzer, deputy county executive, gave no specific answers.
The churches affected, and all of us who wanted answers, were further insulted when no one with code enforcement authority was on the agenda. The fire marshal, we were informed, was traveling out of the country. Yet, we had been informed that our life-saving programs are in jeopardy, encouraged to attend a Fairfax County sponsored meeting, we presumed would be with the fire marshal, and then no one with authority, including the fire marshal, was there to answer our most basic questions.
When asked, the County made no commitment to opening county buildings or fire houses to make up for the church programs in danger of being closed. When pressed, all Robert Stalzer would say was that there was no list of church programs that would be closed (at this point). All code repair negotiations would take place in meetings between the fire marshal’s office and the individual church.
We were encouraged to trust our County officials to work for the best interest of the homeless and our programs to serve them. I feel no confidence in our County officials when there is no transparency in their actions and they attempt to divide us by setting up individual meetings with churches to diminish our collective authority.
I am deeply angered at the County’s unwillingness to answer our questions. Lives are in jeopardy. I am insulted that the authority to give specific answers to our questions was not present. And quite frankly, I am confused as to why the County would be so stupid to call a meeting when they had no answers.
Keary C. Kincannon