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Votes

Column: No Place Like Home

A couple of weeks ago dozens of volunteers fanned out across Fairfax County and Falls Church City to interview those who are living under bridges and in the woods because they are homeless. As difficult as the task was to find the homeless, 462 individuals were surveyed. The purpose of the activity, which is part of the “100,000 Homes” national campaign (www.100khomes.org), was to identify the most vulnerable persons through a process called Registry Week. As a result of this effort we now know who the homeless are, and we know more about them in terms of their health and needs. Such information will allow the agencies and organizations doing work on behalf of the homeless to prioritize those most in need of housing and other services.

I attended a community debriefing last week and heard team members talk about their very moving experiences in meeting the homeless where they sleep and getting to know more about them. Nearly a fourth of the homeless interviewed were between the ages of 18 and 34 years old. A little over a fourth were 55 years or older. Forty-two percent were working full or part-time. As the 100,000 Homes campaign points out, medical research has highlighted several health and social conditions that make people more likely to die on the street. Of those interviewed in Fairfax, 105, or 23 percent, have permanent physical disabilities that limit their mobility. Eighty individuals, or 17 percent, have had serious brain injury or head trauma. Of those surveyed, 165, or 36 percent, are mentally ill. Using the survey indicators, that means there are 107 individuals or nearly a quarter of those interviewed who are at risk of mortality because they are homeless.

Lack of affordable housing is the main cause of homelessness. The majority of people without homes in our community are children and working families who face both low incomes and expensive housing. It is impossible to pay for an apartment when earning minimum wage—even if you work 24 hours per day, 7 days a week. Monthly rent for a typical one-bedroom apartment is $1,134. A family must earn $22.25 an hour to afford a one-bedroom apartment. Eighty-two percent of homeless families earn less than $14.24 an hour. Tied to the inability to afford housing is the statistic that close to 45 percent of persons in families are homeless due to incidents of domestic violence.

This registry is the first of its kind for Fairfax County, putting a real face on homelessness. The government agencies and community partners like FACETS and Reston Interfaith are now at work to house the most vulnerable. The goal is to move 150 of the most vulnerable homeless into homes within three years. It is important for the community at large to become engaged in helping to meet the goal. Continue your support and increase it if you can of Reston Interfaith, FACETS and other community organizations working with the homeless or donate at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/homeless/100khomes/.