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Editorial: Extreme, But Brief, Volunteering

More than 150 volunteers needed to survey chronic homeless for three days in February.

The real solution to homelessness is housing.

This week in Northern Virginia, a point-in-time survey will record all of the “literally homeless” individuals and families in the region. Last year, on Jan. 25, 2012, there were 1,534 people who were literally homeless in the Fairfax-Falls Church Community; 697 of them were single individuals and 837 were people in families. A third of the total number of homeless were children. Nearly 60 percent of the adult members of the homeless families were employed.

Later in February, the Fairfax-Falls Church Partnership to End Homelessness will embark on a new, intensive approach to identify the nearly 300 people who are chronically homeless, living on the street or in the woods around the county. This is part of a national effort, 100,000 Homes.

Volunteers will create a registry, including names, photographs and personal stories of all individuals experiencing chronic homelessness in the area. The information gathered will identify particularly vulnerable people, and help prioritize housing and support resources. The county’s goal is to get half of them in housing within three years.

Hypothermia Prevention

The survey effort is separate from the hypothermia prevention program which served more than 1,000 individuals last winter in 36 shelters across the county with the work of more than 2,300 volunteers to run the shelters. The partnership includes four nonprofit groups, FACETS, Volunteers of America Chesapeake, Reston Interfaith and New Hope Housing, plus 35 faith communities.

Places of worship that provide hypothermia prevention shelter and volunteers: Accotink Unitarian Universalist Church, Burke; Annandale United Methodist Church, Annandale; Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Annandale; Burke United Methodist Church, Burke; Capital Church, Vienna; Centerpointe Church, Fairfax; Church of the Holy Comforter, Vienna; Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center, Falls Church; Embry Rucker Community Shelter, Reston; Emmanuel Lutheran Church, Vienna; Fairfax Circle Baptist Church, Fairfax; Holy Cross Episcopal Church, Dunn Loring; Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Falls Church; King of Kings Lutheran Church, Fairfax; Lincolnia United Methodist Church, Alexandria; Lord of Life Lutheran Church, Fairfax; Messiah United Methodist Church, Springfield; Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, Alexandria; Pender United Methodist Church, Fairfax; Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, Springfield; Rising Hope Mission Church, Alexandria; St. Alban's Episcopal Church, Annandale; St. Andrews Episcopal Church, Burke; St. Barnabas' Episcopal Church, Annandale; St. Christopher's Episcopal Church, Springfield; St. John Neumann, Reston; St. Mark's Lutheran Church, Springfield; St. Mary of Sorrows Catholic Church, Fairfax; St. Matthew's United Methodist Church, Annandale; St. Patrick's Episcopal Church, Falls Church; St. Stephen's United Methodist Church, Burke; Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fairfax, Oakton; Westwood Baptist Church, Springfield. These nonprofits and houses of worship are certainly in need of more volunteers.

The effort is not without precedent. Arlington’s registry week was in October 2011, and identified 153 homeless individuals, with more than half at risk of dying on the streets. Since then, more than 30 homeless people identified as vulnerable have been placed in permanent housing. Arlington’s campaign is on target to fulfill the goal of housing 100 people in three years.

The Fairfax effort, 100,000 Homes Fairfax, kicks off on Feb. 23 with Registry Week, a multi-day event where volunteers go out on the streets and gather information to create a name and photographic registry.

It will require the work of more than 150 volunteers countywide. Most will help conduct surveys with homeless individuals on the streets for three days during registry week. Others will help with data entry and other support roles.

It’s a big commitment but also an opportunity to be a part of real change for some of the area’s most vulnerable people. Volunteer efforts on those days will most certainly lead to saving lives.

Survey volunteers make a four-day commitment, a half-day of training plus working three mornings (4-7 a.m.) in teams of four to interview homeless individuals for the registry. The same team of four must survey the assigned geographical area all three days. Survey volunteers will need to be available: Saturday, Feb. 23, overview and training, noon-4 p.m.; Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, Feb. 25, 26, 27, team survey, 4-7 a.m.

The Registry Week will wrap up with a presentation to the community on March 1.

Other volunteers will help set up for the volunteer training and/or assist at headquarters each survey morning by setting up food, helping with cleanup and answering volunteer questions. You can register online and learn more at http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/homeless/100khomes/registry-week.htm.