Panelists participating in 'Resilience and Recovery COVID-19 A Virtual Town Hall with Fairfax County Officials' presented by Cornerstones in Reston on Monday, June 8. 2020.
Screenshot via Cornerstones
"We know that what the pandemic has just brought home to each and every one of us, is what we see as the chronic nature of what so many in our community face every day. And we're all concerned what happens when the federal money runs out." —Kerrie Wilson, CEO, Cornerstones
Three words characterize Cornerstones' work: stability, empowerment and hope. On Monday, June 8, the nonprofit organization held a Virtual Town Hall with Fairfax County officials from the Dranesville and Hunter Mill districts. Board supervisors John Foust and Walter Alcorn, along with School Board representatives, Elaine Tholen and Melanie Meren, participated. "Our purpose of gathering here today is to give our panelists, an opportunity to talk about the hope that we have for our community and to focus on the practical way, local government can help achieve those goals of Cornerstones and our partners," said Greg White, Chief Operating Officer at Cornerstones.
Facilitators provided additional comments during the dialogue, including Casey Veatch, Principal at Veatch Commercial Real Estate, who moderated the Town Hall. Given their field of expertise, panelists examined topics. They began with an overview of changes and what next year would look like in Fairfax County and their district. Key issues included affordable housing, social programs, work, learning, and more.
FOUST said that when COVID struck, the Board dealt with reduced revenue. "A particular thing that hurt me the most as Chairman of the Housing Committee was we had originally planned to put an additional $25 million into the housing fund...to help development of new housing units. We were unable to do that, but we have fallback plans…We made the commitment, and we will make the investment," Foust said.
According to Alcorn, he watched what kind of federal contracting money was going to come into the community. He said, "That's really driving a lot of our economy, and if that keeps coming, we'll be okay." Alcorn said the loss of the penny increase for the affordable housing initiative would not change the rebuild course of Embry Rucker Center, the library and needs at Reston Town Center North. The shutdown made visible though they had been warehousing many of the homeless population in the library system. "I think it's now convinced me it's something I want to work with Cornerstones going forward. We need to look at more daytime services, not just check-in but actually, services to provide real futures for our homeless population that they can take advantage of during the day. Not just housing people overnight, but actually ... (putting) people on a path to employment, to self-sufficiency and certainly into housing," said Alcorn.
Foust said that COVID-19 demonstrated the "unbelievable contribution" that low-income workers in the service industries and others made to the community, economy and society. "They deserve an affordable place to live in that community. On the Silver Line, we have workforce housing that we're looking at now, trying to lower the income levels... for the workforce housing. There will be a very significant amount of that in the Reston and Tyson areas," he said.
According to Veatch, Meren and Tholen each had three Title One schools in their districts with many students from homes where English was not the first language. The representatives discussed how the school system was working with families and partner organizations to ensure students had the support and resources they needed. Meren said federal changes in Title One funding would impact students in the community, "not positively," forcing them to do more with less." One of the things that we looked at…was social-emotional support. Before any child can be ready to learn, if the child is scared or being abused, homeless, hungry, we know that kids can't learn... We are dipping forth in our budget to have additional special education resource teachers throughout the whole division that would assist with students who may have lagged..., and that's any student, not just our vulnerable population; then additionally, ten system-wide social workers," Meren said.
Tholen said that when COVID forced schools to close, food distribution expanded." So far, we've served over 1.2 million lunches and breakfasts... We've distributed over 22,000 laptops and over 2,500 devices to students." Tholen said teachers formed teams who spoke multiple languages. They reached out to parent liaisons that contacted families to make sure "every student had actually been reached." "Individualized care is so important," she said.
ONE OF THE FINAL conversations centered on affordable, accessible health care and screening. Veatch said challenges due to the coronavirus disproportionately impacted seniors, immigrants, persons of color and other vulnerable members of the community. Foust said, "A lot of those areas involve Hispanic communities. We've got 17 percent of the population in Fairfax County, Hispanic, and over 60-65 percent of confirmed cases of COVID in that community...So we've been targeting testing." He also said the County was sending in nurses at senior housing programs, to train their staff on how to prevent the disease and monitoring them. "There's a lot more we need to do," Foust said.
Alcorn said the County was focusing on assistance to people who could not isolate themselves in their homes. "They may have a three-generation household with literally two bedrooms," he said. Addressing Supervisor Alcorn, Veatch said, "It's ironic here the people working the hardest out there, they're getting the hardest hit, right on the front lines for us... It is incumbent upon us to do exactly what you and Supervisor Foust just said."