Evan and Maggie Baker and their 10-year-old son, Robbie, tour the newly opened A-SPAN apartment building in Westover on Saturday, June 22.
Evan and Maggie Baker and their 10-year-old son, Robbie, stopped by A-SPAN's open house Saturday, June 22 which celebrated the opening of A-SPAN’s new eight-unit apartment building in Westover. "I was finally able to get to an A-SPAN event, since it is on a weekend. We support the needs of the homeless in Arlington County and our kids often talk about what they can do," Evan Baker said.
Maggie Baker added that she has a special interest because she spent a year in London working with the homeless in an alcohol rehab center. "It was pretty much the same as America. The homeless knew when to come and we served them tea three times a day and then soup at night." She said it's different when you can see them face to face instead of just handing out a dollar here and there. “We always struggle with how to support people on the street."
When asked how long it took to get the new apartment building, Scott Miller, A-SPAN senior director of development, held up the certificate of occupancy and answered, "It took us 27 years to get here. It has always been the vision of the board and it has been a priority for the last five years. We were looking for the right opportunity. This was a private sale. We didn't get funds from the county or the state so we could do what we want. It is a luxury to finally be a landlord to our clients."
While A-SPAN offers 80 beds in their Homeless Services Center as well as housing programs that get homeless into permanent housing, this is the first time they have owned an apartment building. Miller says they have placed 300 formerly homeless people into their own homes and their supportive housing programs have a 96 percent retention rate.
However, for that 4 percent who are the most at-risk clients who bounce from the shelter to the streets to couch surfing back to the shelter, Streets to Stability Housing will serve those homeless individuals who require the most oversight and enhanced support. This newly acquired apartment facility includes space for on-site case managers during the day as well as skills coaches to offer support, as people need it in the evenings, on weekends and on holidays. Miller says the clients will receive 100 hours of support a week.
Some of the apartments are already occupied and others will have tenants soon. Each apartment has been furnished from the A-SPAN "Make it A Home Fund" with a couch, queen size bed and night table with lamp and dining room table, all for $700. "All of the apartments have refinished floors, fresh coats of paint and some have new kitchen renovations, and the dishes and pots and pans are often contributed by volunteers."
Keleigh Neyhard, A-SPAN case manager, headed down to the basement. She said, “This large basement area currently remains unfinished but will become a community room for clients. And in the backyard there is plenty of space for outdoor activities like picnics and relaxation. That is unusual.” She says these social events are important. “A lot of these people are lonely and need to talk to somebody.”
Miller said the property was purchased from Huy Phan, who "decided to go all in because we believe A-SPAN will do great things with the building." The purchase of this building preserves affordable housing in an Arlington neighborhood at risk for redevelopment.
A-SPAN's day program began in 1999 with permanent housing in 2007, medical services in 2010 with 1,000 medical visits annually. The Homeless Services Center, providing shelter for up to 80 individuals and veterans nightly, was opened in 2015 with Job START in 2016.
Miller stresses the importance of A-SPAN supporters who can donate at a-span.org, prepare or serve meals or organize a donation drive to collect toiletries, clothing, blankets or food.