Mother of Light

Mother of Light

Homeless assistance center faces unwelcome reception.

Mother of Light center outlined in red.

Mother of Light center outlined in red. Photo Contributed

— In theory, the Mother of Light Center’s use permit at the City Council should have been a celebratory occasion. The social services with ties to a religious community in Falls Church was opening a center in Del Ray aimed at providing basic necessities for homeless Alexandrians. But the new center came into conflict with its Del Ray neighbors over a variety of issues, some of which were practical concerns shared by members of the City Council. When other neighbors began to frame the conversation as suspicion and fear towards potential homeless Alexandrians brought into the neighborhood, the tone of the council discussion turned against the residents.

Resident concerns about traffic flow and the space being overcrowded seemed well founded, as even representatives from the new Mother of Light Center said, the situation wasn’t ideal but they were trying to make the best of limited space.

Councilman Paul Smedberg, reviewing the size of the facility, said it looked like it would need three or four times as much space as they had to adequately provide the kind of services they were claiming to provide.

“We think it will be adequate,” said Elizabeth Courier, a representative from the center, “not ideal.”

But as the residents continued to testify against the facility, the conversation changed from logistical concerns to broader fears.

“This is a small residential, quiet street trying to survive and suddenly we’re being put in a dilema where homeless people might be brought into our neighborhood or might travel themselves, with no screening for prior record, or child molestation, or drug abuse, or mental health issues,” said Anne Isaacs. “Suddenly those people will become our reality.”


Exterior of new Mother of Light assistance center.

Adrienne Miller, an Alexandria police officer, said she supported helping the homeless and disadvantaged but that bringing them into her neighborhood came with risks.

“A large percentage are addicted to drugs or alcohol, or have untreated mental illnesses,” said Miller, saying that homelessness was related to an increase in crime. “Our neighborhood is free of crime … Del Ray doesn’t have a homeless problem.”

Kyle Williams, a resident living a couple doors away from the center, said he was concerned that there wouldn’t be screenings for homeless people with violent or drug offenses in their history.

When the discussion turned back to the council, it was clear the neighbors’ comments had an impact on Councilman John Chapman.

“If folks don’t know anything about me and my family, we’ve had our bouts with homelessness in this city,” said Chapman. “We’re fourth generation Alexandrians. Generations before me owned businesses, owned homes. I own a home here. It’s sad to see what I just saw in terms of how we talk about the homeless here in this community. I’m sad. Nobody vetted me when I was in 8th grade and I was homeless. Nobody vetted my mother. But I sit up here on this dais and represent everyone in this community and I do it with pride because we are inclusive.

“To have a service like this that is willing to work with our homeless community, and so few folks frankly are, is wonderful … We have so many families, maybe folks don’t see it or don’t hear enough about it, folks in the streets. You may not notice them as we drive by, but they’re here.

“I don’t like the underlying conversation I’m picking up. There are real things the city can do to work with community to make people feel safe, but I’m challenged by the underlying concern I’m hearing.”

In the end, the City Council unanimously approved the social use for the Mother of Light in Del Ray.