Our Fairfax-Falls Church community is one of the most affluent in the country. Our schools are second to none. We are the home for many Fortune 500 businesses. Even with the challenging economy, our unemployment rate is among the lowest in the country.
Despite these strengths, our community also includes people who are homeless and are staying at emergency shelters, living in their cars or camping in the woods. Our community includes families with no place to sleep at night and children with no place to go after school. It saddens me to report that there were over 3,000 homeless individuals in our community this past year. It is unacceptable to have homeless men, women and children in our community.
Homelessness impacts every person in our community and each has a role in ending it. Through the good work of many non-profit and religious organizations, for many years we have directed our collective efforts to managing the homeless issues. However, little was done to find longer term solutions to prevent and end homelessness. That has now changed.
Editor’s Note: This month, The Connection begins featuring a monthly column written by community leaders involved in Fairfax County’s nonprofit organizations. Every year, thousands of Fairfax County residents volunteer with nonprofits in a variety of ways, whether it’s driving a senior citizen to a medical appointment or serving meals to the homeless in one of the county’s hypothermia shelters. According to Volunteer Fairfax—a nonprofit that matches volunteers with service projects—individuals volunteered 205,688 hours of service to the community. We launch this series with a column by Michael O’Reilly, chairman of the Governing Board of the Fairfax-Falls Church Partnership to Prevent and End Homelessness.
The leadership of Congressman Gerry Connolly helped to galvanize all of the energy and effort in the entire community. The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors with leadership from Chairman Bulova and Supervisor Catherine Hudgins and all of our key stakeholders from the non-profit, government, faith and business community came together to develop an impressive 10 Year Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness. The plan recognizes the right of all people to have a safe affordable place in which to live. The plan envisions our entire community working together as partners to eliminate homelessness. We have some very steep goals and lots of hard work ahead to reach our goal of ending homelessness in Fairfax County by the end of 2018.
We have made huge strides in the development of the governance structure called The Partnership to Prevent and End Homelessness. The Office to Prevent and End Homelessness was established within Fairfax County. We have constituted a governing board made up of business leaders, elected officials, builders, clergy, law enforcement and others. We have created a new Consumer Advisory Council to ensure that currently homeless and formerly homeless have an active voice in the implementation of our plan.
We have much more work to do. We have recently moved our collective efforts to the plan’s goal of creating 2,650 new housing units. We have supported and will continue to support efforts to amend the county’s housing code to permit more individual housing options. We hosted a day-long outreach program for our faith based communities which shows promise at increasing the housing stock.
Through our collective prevention and rapid rehousing strategies, community case management and the provision of other critical services, we prevented last year over 1,400 individuals from becoming homeless by providing community case management and other services. In addition, we have launched a Housing Locator Network to strengthen relationships with landlords and to help to move the homeless in our community more rapidly into permanent housing. Through the work of our partnership we have seen an impressive increase in homeless families and individuals placed in permanent housing from 482 in 2010 to 853 in 2012. Many adults and children have been positively impacted. This can only be attributed to the commitment that many in our community have made to end homelessness.
Our approach to preventing and ending homelessness is predicated on us doing so in partnership with a broad coalition of nonprofits, faith communities, businesses and government. Working together allows us to do amazing things.
I thank you for your interest and commitment and look forward to our continued work together with all of our partners in the coming years as we strive to prevent and end homelessness in our community. If you would like to become involved in this important work please go to www.fairfaxcounty.gov/homeless or call 703-324-9492 for more information.
Michael O’Reilly is chairman of the Governing Board of Fairfax Falls Church Partnership to Prevent and End Homelessness.