FAIRFAX, Va. — Eighteen chronically homeless people living in the woods and along highways in Fairfax County now have a place to call home.
The small group was placed in apartments as part of a program to ease growing poverty in Virginia.
In 2000, David Vernon’s health went down hill, he couldn’t work anymore and he found himself living in his van.
“Last week, I was on the side of the highway in the woods in my camp,” Vernon says.
Now he’s sharing an apartment with a roommate in Fairfax.
Vernon lived along Route 50 for 10 years. He was identified by the 100,000 Homes program as an especially vulnerable person given his health.
“I had arthritis all over my body and my joints from the air. Since I came inside, within three weeks, my body started tingling. My hands my joints — feeling started coming back into them,” Vernon says.
Fairfax joined the national 100,000 Homes program a year ago with the goal of placing 50 chronically homeless people in case-managed apartments to reduce poverty in the county.
FACETS, an anti-poverty group is working with the county and other faith-based organizations to identify the region’s most vulnerable homeless individuals.
“When we went out, we found people who had severe medical issues, who had mental health issues. We also found youth who had aged out of foster care,” says Amanda Andere, FACETS executive director.
As part of the Department of Housing and Urban Development-funded program, representatives with 100,000 Homes agencies interviewed homeless individuals to find out what led to their homelessness, what medical issues they had and connected them with services.
Andere says there were some homeless veterans who were unaware they were entitled to government services or who the government has been unable to find.
The program saves the community resources that translate into dollars, says Dean Klein, director of the county’s Office to Prevent and End Homelessness.
Chronically homeless people often have chronic health conditions and as they are uninsured, they seek treatment at the ER, Klein says.
“I think we know the emergency room is the most expensive way to treat people. Just by that factor alone, it saves community dollars and it saves taxpayer dollars. [Through this program], they are able to access other resources that would allow them to get care at a lower cost which is better for them and allows them independence,” Klein says.
“The great joy is 18 people are moving from homelessness to housing. But we know there are hundreds more just in Fairfax County alone who if they don’t get housing are at risk of dying,” Andere says.
While the program has nearly met its goal — having placed 45 of the 50 people it intended to house this year — Andere says there is still a need. The program identified more than 300 chronically homeless individuals in the county who they believe are in danger of losing their lives if they don’t find stable housing soon.