[Hpn] With Low-Cost Housing Lacking, Homeless Population Swells

William Charles Tinker wtinker@verizon.net
Sat, 25 Mar 2006 23:06:26 -0500


http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/03/25/AR2006032500814.html

With Low-Cost Housing Lacking, Homeless Population Swells

Advocates Say Spike Underlines Dearth Of Affordable Housing

By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer

Sunday, March 26, 2006; Page C03

The number of homeless single adults living in Fairfax County has increased
sharply over the past year, according to a study to be released tomorrow.
The county's annual "point in time" survey, a one-day canvass conducted Jan.
25, found 2,077 homeless people in Fairfax, a 6.5 percent increase over last
year and the highest total since 2002. Of that number, 934 were single
adults, a 17 percent jump from 2005.
The count also includes 333 families with 734 children.
The study, based on information gathered at emergency shelters, temporary
housing, drop-in centers and mobile food programs, confirms what local
officials have described anecdotally for months: that homelessness in one of
the country's most prosperous counties is more pervasive than generally
assumed.
The Fairfax survey does not count residents whose circumstances place them
on the brink of homelessness. The "precariously housed" include families or
individuals facing eviction or those who have been taken in by friends or
family.
The findings, which will be presented to the Fairfax County Board of
Supervisors tomorrow, will probably add to the renewed attention the issue
is receiving in Fairfax. On April 7, the Board of Supervisors and the
Freddie Mac Foundation will hold a day-long "Community Summit to End
Homelessness." The conference is expected to bring elected leaders together
with business, philanthropic, nonprofit and religious groups.
Other localities in the region are undertaking similar surveys. At least
one, Montgomery County, also shows an increase this year in its homeless
population -- up 7 percent to 1,745. County officials said that includes a
12 percent increase in homeless single adults, from 616 to 693.
For the past four years, Fairfax has had the largest homeless population of
any regional locality outside the District, where more than half of the
area's 15,439 homeless reside.
Homeless advocates say the Fairfax survey underscores the need for
affordable housing in a county where the average two-bedroom apartment rents
for $1,250 a month.
"The lack of affordable housing is the issue that underlies all of
homelessness," said Linda Wimpey, chairman of the Community Council on
Homelessness, in the advance text of a speech she will deliver to the board.
Last year, the supervisors voted to earmark one penny from the county's tax
rate to preserve affordable housing, a decision that Wimpey said was
important in keeping the homeless population from increasing even more.
But she said the sharp increase in homeless single adults makes the shortage
of low-cost efficiency apartments -- traditionally known as single-room
occupancies -- a critical need. Fairfax's sole single-room development, Coan
Pond Residences on Pender Drive, is operated by the county's Department of
Housing and Community Development.
Board Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D) said he has asked Fairfax officials to
examine every parcel of county-owned land to determine its suitability for
affordable housing, including single-room occupancies.
"It's hard to keep a job or maintain sobriety if you're living in the woods
under a tarp," Connolly said.
Wimpey, founder and former chief executive of FACETS, a Fairfax nonprofit
group that aids the homeless, said in an interview that the reasons for the
sharp increase in homeless single adults, of whom nearly three-quarters are
male, were not clear. It may be, she said, that this winter's Hypothermia
Response Program, a joint venture of FACETS and the county in which churches
took turns providing a week's worth of shelter to the single homeless, made
them easier to count.
Although the number of homeless people in families (1,143) is almost
unchanged from last year, that group faces challenges in finding shelter.
About 60 families are on the waiting list for county shelters, and at one
point late last year, 90 families were on the list. Officials say it can
take up to four months to find a spot.



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