Arlington approves new homeless shelter

Max Smith,

The Arlington County Board unanimously approved a new, year-round homeless shelter Saturday that condo owners whose building backs up against the site oppose. But advocates say it will provide crucial support to the homeless.

Arlington bought the building near the Courthouse Metro Station in the fall. It is directly across the street from the Arlington County Justice Center at 14th Street North between N. Courthouse Road and N. Troy Street.

Under the use permit approved Saturday, the first floor will remain retail, with one entrance for the homeless shelter and resource center and another for the county offices that will be relocated to the upper floors of the building. The basement levels will remain a parking garage.

To assuage security concerns from residents in the Woodbury Heights Condos, which are on the same block, there will be video cameras outside the building and a security guard during evening hours. There are also reviews of the permit scheduled after the shelter opens.

“It is going to adversely affect our property values. And safety,” January Holt said before the vote.

“If this is a project that helps the whole county, the whole county should pay,” fellow Woodbury Heights resident Jeff Swarc said. “Please don’t show reckless disregard for my neighborhood,” he asked the board.

The homeless shelter will have 50 beds year-round, with 25 more in the winter. There will be additional beds for homeless people recovering from medical issues.

A number of those helped in the past by homeless services in Arlington, and volunteers and staff with A-SPAN, the group that will operate the shelter, expressed support for the permit. The shelter will provide services like job and life-skills training, and counseling for mental health issues and addiction.

“There will never be zero homelessness, ever. There never has been, there never will be. And I think it’s important that you provide a set of services always available to the homeless to meet their need so that they will not remain homeless permanently. They should not have to march across the river into D.C. to get food and shelter,” Arlington resident Roberta Spence said.

Barbara Favola, who had been on the board, and now serves as a Virginia state senator, pointed not only to the human impact of a shelter open 24/7/365 days, but also the amount of money that could be saved by getting homeless people into permanent housing, rather than paying for short-term fixes.

Renovations on the building are scheduled to be completed in late 2014. When the shelter opens, it will replace Arlington’s winter homeless shelter a few blocks away that is also operated by A-SPAN. Arlington County covers the major costs of homeless services.

“I actually think the year-round shelter is going to make us all in this area more secure, because what’s been happening now as the shelter closed, people hang around outside because they don’t have a place to go, so they tend to sort of hang. I don’t even know if that makes us insecure, but it makes us feel insecure. Now they’re going to have a place to be, inside,” Board Member Libby Garvey said.

“If there is a jurisdiction in this country that has a shot at ending homelessness, you are in it right now,” Arlington County Board Chair Walter Tejada said just before the vote.

Arlington has a 10-year plan to end homelessness.

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