Commentary: Churches Get Ready for Company

Commentary: Churches Get Ready for Company

Last year’s hypothermia prevention program.

Last year’s hypothermia prevention program. Photo contributed


Joe Fay

The warm fall masks what’s ahead: a cold winter that jeopardizes the lives of those who have no home. Despite the warmer than average temperatures, the annual community effort to protect and provide for Fairfax residents who are living in the woods, on the streets, in cars, and abandoned buildings is gearing up.

Since 2003, FACETS’ Hypothermia Prevention and Response Program has provided a safe place to sleep and nutritious meals to men and women who are experiencing homelessness. This program is operated across Fairfax and Falls Church in partnership with the Fairfax County government and approximately 40 faith communities.

Planning starts months before as our team at FACETS, a nonprofit that opens doors by helping those who suffer the effects of poverty in Fairfax, meets with faith community and county partners on the logistics needed to serve hundreds of guests. Throughout the winter, each faith community partner takes a week when they open their doors to provide shelter. In anticipation, churches and temples are preparing their facilities to welcome people in need during the cold months ahead — cleaning, getting supplies, and making fixes and upgrades. Other volunteers are planning menus and meals to serve.

Over the years, the program has evolved from solely offering a safe haven to also offering life-enhancing programs. The cold winter means demand for our services goes up. It also means we have the opportunity to address these needs in a very personal way as more people come in from the cold through our hypothermia prevention effort. We use these interactions to connect even more people with housing solutions and critical services.

Last year, we served nearly 300 guests through the hypothermia prevention program. In addition, our case managers worked with 125 of these guests to connect them with health, housing, and job placement services as well as veterans and Social Security benefits.

In addition, we connected some guests with market-rate apartments or houses in the community, where they received rental subsidies and/or services that were tailored to their specific needs, including a caseworker to help ease the transition. Last winter, 34 hypothermia prevention program guests found a home through the interaction.

Fairfax has the second largest population in the region experiencing homelessness, a surprise for many who live in this county with so much abundance. But we also have a caring, strong community filled with volunteers willing to give of their time and talents to make life better for all. These volunteers — who are cooking and cleaning to prepare for company that will arrive after Thanksgiving — are great hosts and an important part of our community’s efforts to prevent and end homelessness.

To learn more or volunteer, visit us at

Joe Fay is Executive Director of FACETS, a Fairfax-based nonprofit working to prevent and end homelessness.