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Morning Notes

COVID-19 Infections Contribute to Metrobus Driver Shortage — “More than 50 Metro bus routes are experiencing delays and increased wait times due to a driver shortage across the city. WMATA cites the spread of new COVID variants, such as delta and omicron, as one of the causes of the shortage, as employees take sick leave to recover.” [WUSA9]

County Urges Awareness of Unhoused People — As the winter solstice, last night (Tuesday) was the longest one of the year, prompting Fairfax County to acknowledge its 1,000-plus residents who experience homelessness every winter. The county advises community members to call its Department of Public Safety Communications at 703-691-2131 if they see someone in need of shelter, and the annual Hypothermia Prevention Program is now underway. [Fairfax County Government]

Nearby: Mary Riley Styles Library Goes Virtual — “Due to concerns about the recent increase in COVID-19 transmissions in the area, all in-person library programs and use of library conference rooms are suspended until mid-January 2022. Group study rooms may still be reserved, but are limited to groups of three or less.” [City of Falls Church]

Transit and Amenities Drive Fairfax County Office Demand — “New office buildings in transit-oriented mixed-use developments in Tysons and Reston have generated leasing and investor interest as office tenants court young workers. But as these projects soak up the pandemic-weakened demand for new leases, the older suburban-style office buildings have suffered.” [Bisnow]

Student Mental Health Support Staffing a Concern in FCPS — “Many Fairfax County Public Schools students were experiencing high levels of anxiety and depression even before the pandemic struck nearly two years ago and county officials are struggling to maintain adequate mental-health staffing to address those concerns.” [Sun Gazette/Inside NoVA]

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Morning Notes

Man Arrested in Vienna Shooting — A 25-year-old Manassas man has been charged with malicious wounding and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon after a shooting in the Navy Federal Credit Union parking lot at 801 Follin Lane SE. Police found a male victim who had been shot in the upper torso around 12:36 a.m. yesterday (Thursday) in what investigators believe was a personal dispute with no greater threat to the community. [Vienna Police Department]

Fairfax County Pushes to Vaccinate Unhoused Residents — “Hutson is one of roughly 1,200 unhoused residents in Fairfax County, according to the county’s January 2021 point-in-time count…Getting COVID-19 vaccines to this transient — and highly vulnerable — population is a major challenge for public health staff like Vukadinovich.” [DCist]

County Seeks Kid-Sized Mask Donations — The Fairfax County Health Department hopes to collect 10,000 new, unused face masks that can fit children who are too young to get vaccinated, particularly toddlers and school-aged kids. Masks can be dropped off at all local police stations and will help the county fill requests from nonprofit partners. [FCHD]

Falls Church Cuts Ribbon on New High School Campus — “It was the major ceremony that officials here have been working toward for more than a decade. At Homecoming Week at Meridian High School, the brand-spanking new $120 million high school facility was formally dedicated with a ribbon cutting last Saturday morning.” [Falls Church News-Press]

Latter-Day Saints Opens New Wolf Trap Church — “A new meetinghouse for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been completed in the Wolf Trap area and will offer public tours during an open house. The new meetinghouse at 1632 Crowell Road, Vienna will serve residents of Vienna, McLean, Reston, and other nearby communities. The estimated membership is 600 Latter-day Saints.” [Patch]

Capital One Delays Office Reopening Again — “The McLean-based financial giant has opted not to reopen its offices in a hybrid format Nov. 2. It first announced in June it would reopen in September, then in August delayed that until November. Hybrid remains the plan, but the company will no longer attempt to forecast a date as to when that might be implemented.” [Washington Business Journal]

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Encampment set up by people experiencing homelessness (via MWCOG)

Thanks to federal relief funding, Fairfax County is getting an infusion of emergency housing voucher money to help people who are at risk of homelessness or fleeing from domestic violence and others in need.

The American Rescue Plan Act signed into law in March is providing $10 billion to address homelessness, including 70,000 vouchers to local housing authorities, including Fairfax County.

The county will partner with community groups to provide the housing assistance, which could last 10 years — the length of the program — for each recipient.

“We are very grateful to receive these Emergency Housing Vouchers to serve many of our most vulnerable residents and neighbors and help them achieve safe and stable housing,” Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority Chair C. Melissa McKenna, who serves as the Dranesville District commissioner, said in a statement.

The Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority approved a county framework last Thursday (July 15) to receive the money, which involves 169 vouchers that will be made available in coming weeks.

Recipients will need to be referred to the program by county case managers or other service points, such as homeless services, Coordinated Services Planning (703-222-0880), or the Domestic and Sexual Violence 24-Hour Hotline (703-360-7273).

Money will go to landlords, and recipients will be required to pay 30% of their income toward rent and utilities.

The emergency housing vouchers can cover a variety of costs, including security deposits, moving expenses, and essential household items such as bedding and tableware.

Even outside the vouchers, ARPA has dedicated billions of dollars to addressing housing issues, as people have struggled to pay rent amid statewide shutdowns last year and uncertain employment due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The need to provide housing assistance is expected to become especially urgent in the coming months after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s eviction moratorium expires on July 31.

“The [assistance is] designed to prevent and respond to [the] coronavirus by facilitation the leasing of the [emergency housing vouchers], which will provide vulnerable individuals and families a much safer housing environment to minimize the risk of coronavirus exposure or spread,” Dominique Blom, a general deputy assistant secretary with the Housing and Urban Development Department, said in a May memo describing the funding.

Vaccinations have helped bring the virus under control, but cases have been rising in Virginia and the U.S. amid the spread of the highly contagious delta variant, which is now the source of 83% of all new COVID-19 cases, according to CDC estimates.

“Individuals and families who are homeless or at-risk of homelessness are often living in conditions that significantly increase the risk of exposure to coronavirus in addition to other health risks,” Blom said in the memo.

Eligibility for the vouchers is limited to individuals and families who are experiencing homelessness, at risk of homelessness, or were recently homeless and “for whom providing rental assistance will prevent the family’s homelessness or having high risk of housing instability.”

People fleeing — or attempting to flee — domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking, or human trafficking are also eligible for the vouchers.

“These vouchers — in addition to the existing programs and services offered through a robust partnership — offer yet another valuable resource to help position individuals and families on a reliable foundation from which they can achieve their fullest potential,” McKenna said in her statement.

During the first year of the pandemic, homelessness decreased throughout the D.C. region except in Fairfax County, which saw a 17% increase from 1,041 people in 2020 to 1,222 in 2021, and Prince George’s County, which had a 19% increase, according to a Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments report.

Fairfax County has attributed the increase to expanded services supported by COVID-19 relief funding.

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A new report by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) highlights some remarkable regional success in reducing homelessness. In Fairfax County, the numbers seemed to tell a different story, but county leadership says some of that is a result of the way the survey is conducted.

The annual study sends researchers across regional localities to collect a snapshot of how many residents are experiencing homelessness, and while not a comprehensive scientific count, it’s generally seen as a look at regional trends.

While neighbors like Arlington County and the City of Alexandria reported declines in their homeless population counts by 14% and 49%, respectively, Fairfax County is one of only two out of nine jurisdictions surveyed that saw its homeless count increase.

In Fairfax County, homeless population counts went from 1,041 in 2020 to 1,222 in 2021, a 17% increase. The only other D.C.-area locality to report a year-to-year rise in its homeless population was Prince George’s County, which increased by 19%.

Fairfax County claims on its website that the increase reflects an expansion of shelter capacity and services, rather than an increase in homelessness.

“The increase is primarily attributable to the increase in the community’s capacity to provide shelter with increased federal emergency funding associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, and the commendable efforts of service providers to care for unstably housed community members,” the Fairfax County Office to Prevent and End Homelessness said.

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay similarly credited the increase in the count to an increase in accommodations for people experiencing homelessness.

“This year’s data indicates an outstanding effort by our Housing staff and our community-based partners to respond to the unprecedented impacts of 2020,” he said in a statement. “By providing safe housing accommodations and a wide variety of supportive services to assist our most vulnerable neighbors along the path toward housing stability, we have been able to help our entire community.”

However, since at least 2017, the homeless population counts for Fairfax County have been gradually increasing, which McKay says is also indicative of an inadequate affordable housing stock.

Released in two parts across 2018 and 2019, the county’s Communitywide Housing Strategic Plan set a goal of producing a minimum of 5,000 net new affordable housing units within 15 years. 1,800 units are currently in the pipeline, according to McKay.

In his statement to Tysons Reporter on the homelessness point-in-time count data, McKay said:

Most importantly, it indicates that our work on the issue of housing — including emergency housing — must and will continue to be a critical priority for this Board. This is an essential component of our community’s crisis response system for those who need help in regaining a safe, decent and stable housing situation.

Housing is a foundational component in achieving positive outcomes in nearly every aspect of our lives and having thousands of our neighbors experiencing homelessness or struggling to remain in their homes is not something that we as a community will turn a blind eye to. This could be any of us. There are too many circumstances beyond our control which can cause that stability to be shaken through no fault of our own.

Photo via MWCOG

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Morning Notes

Vienna Budget Hearings Begin Next Week — The Town of Vienna will hold a public hearing on its proposed FY 2022 budget and water and sewer rates on Monday (April 12), with a public hearing on the proposed tax rate to follow on April 26. Town Manager Mercury Payton proposed increasing the budget by 5.3% and maintaining a flat tax rate for the seventh consecutive year. [Patch]

Northam Endorses McAuliffe for Virginia Governor — “Democratic Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced Thursday that he is backing Terry McAuliffe in the race to succeed him, handing his predecessor one of the contest’s most coveted endorsements…McAuliffe [is] the presumptive front-runner in the five-person Democratic primary, to be held in June.” [Associated Press/WTOP]

Fairfax County Will Get $7.8 Million to Combat Homelessness — Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner (D) announced yesterday that Virginia will get more than $96 million in federal funding from the American Rescue Plan to help residents who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless get access to safe, affordable housing. Fairfax County is among 21 localities to receive grant funding. [Press release from Sen. Tim Kaine’s office]

Wolf Trap Announces Grants for Local Performing Arts Programs — Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts has awarded eight grants to high schools in the D.C. area, including Centreville High School in Fairfax County to support their music, dance, and theater programs. Wolf Trap will track the projects through its Virtual Stage platform. [Wolf Trap]

Pop-Up Consignment Sale Now Open at Pike 7Just Between Friends Eastern Fairfax kicked off its spring and summer sale yesterday at Pike 7 Plaza on Leesburg Pike in Vienna. The sale runs through Sunday and allows people to buy or sell toys, clothes, and other items for children. Admission is free, but tickets can be reserved through Eventbrite. [Just Between Friends/Facebook]

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It has barely been 10 days since Fairfax County launched its annual Hypothermia Prevention Program, and it’s already clear that this winter will be unlike any other that Abby Dunner has experienced in her nearly decade-long work with the initiative.

Now the manager of the Fairfax County Office to Prevent and End Homelessness, Dunner has been involved with the hypothermia prevention program since she was employed as a case manager and assistant by the nonprofit FACETS in 2012.

The COVID-19 pandemic, however, forced Dunner and the other county and nonprofit officials who run the program to completely reengineer their operations, which were well-honed after 15 years of providing shelter for people in need during the coldest months of the year.

This year’s hypothermia prevention program, which started on Dec. 1 and runs through Apr. 1, 2021, must contend not only with the public health risks and social distancing protocols created by COVID-19, but also the looming threat of a surge in homelessness if emergency assistance measures end.

“We recognize the challenges and kind of the unique situation that we’re in, but everybody is also very much on board with understanding that the program has to continue,” Dunner said. “We have to still be able to shelter people who are experiencing homelessness.”

County officials and the nonprofit contractors that operate the hypothermia prevention shelters realized early on that they would have to make major changes to the program to make it viable this year.

Dunner says the Office to Prevent and End Homelessness collaborated extensively with the Fairfax County Health Department throughout the planning process. Health officials walked through each site and recommended ways to implement social distancing as much as possible.

Typically, the county relies on faith communities and nonprofits to host the actual shelters, which rotate between different locations every week, but the churches and other buildings usually utilized were too small to allow for the approximately 100 square feet of space sought per guest.

This time, the county turned to its own facilities, ultimately identifying seven sites that were sufficiently spacious, centrally located, and accessible by public transportation.

The ideal site for Central Fairfax, which includes the Tysons area, turned out to be a former Container Store at 8508 Leesburg Pike in Vienna.

According to Mike Dykes, the hypothermia coordinator for FACETS, which is operating the site, Fairfax County had been renting it out to George Mason University as a storage space before realizing it could be repurposed. At roughly 19,000 square feet in size, it can accommodate up to 84 shelter guests with social distancing.

“It’s quite a lot of space, much larger than the spaces we were looking at earlier and larger than most of the spaces we’re at in other years,” Dykes said.

Dunner says the hypothermia prevention program generally serves about 1,200 people across its four months of operation, and roughly 215 people utilize the shelters each night.

Though only a handful of people stayed at the Container Store site for the first couple of nights, the shelter averaged about 26 guests over the program’s first seven days, reaching 40 people on Dec. 7 with numbers expected to continue rising, according to Dykes. Read More

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About 250 more people are using Fairfax County’s emergency homelessness services this November over last November, and there are enough beds for just over half of them.

That number could increase as the federal ban on evictions draws nearer.

“As we look at potential rising eviction numbers, we need to be aware of the capacity for the homelessness system,” Fairfax County Health, Housing and Human Services Chief Strategist Dean Klein told the Board of Supervisors during a Health and Human Services committee meeting on Tuesday (Nov. 24).

With COVID-19 cases rising, Fairfax County is dealing with increasing numbers of people experiencing homelessness as well as the threat of rising eviction rates. Klein says rent assistance and partnerships with landlords will be critical for preventing evictions and keeping people in homes this winter.

“Our ongoing efforts to reach out to vulnerable populations is increasingly critical,” he said.

One step Fairfax County has taken is to form an eviction prevention task force with representatives from various county agencies, the county sheriff’s office, and the nonprofit law firm Legal Services of Northern Virginia.

Klein says he hopes to receive financial support from the Board of Supervisors next month. His staff anticipates spending at the same level as it is right now, which is about $600,000 a week.

Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik said a board matter is in the works that would “give additional local support for our continuation of basic needs, which we know continues to be a concern for us.”

Although funding comes from a number of sources, some are set to run dry soon, adding to the sense of urgency.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency stepped in this year to pay for hotel rooms so that people experiencing homelessness could have a place to sleep safely during the pandemic. However, it is unclear how long FEMA will continue to provide funding, Klein says.

Fairfax County Office to Prevent and End Homelessness Deputy Director Tom Barnett said the FEMA commitments are on a month-to-month basis and will last through the middle of December.

“We will continue to request extensions every month as they will support most of these expenses,” he said. Read More

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A Vienna woman decided to take advantage of free time to help women around the D.C. area that are either suffering from homelessness or domestic violence while also supporting a regional Black-owned eatery.

Alexandra Sorrell, a recent Virginia Tech graduate, doesn’t start her new job until October and said she couldn’t stand the idea of sitting idly by while other people are in need. So Sorrell decided to organize a GoFundMe to purchase full-price meals from Puddin’ for women at both the Harriet Tubman Women’s Shelter and N Street Village facilities.

Both of these non-profits focus on helping women and children in the area by offering housing, counseling and advocacy, according to their websites.

“It’s hard to find things to fill your time and I felt so guilty sitting at home while so many people are suffering, especially now with the pandemic and Black Lives Matter,” she said.

Though Sorrell thought about assisting community members around Vienna, she recognized that there was a more immediate and extreme need in D.C.

One of Sorrell’s family friends is an emergency room nurse in a regional hospital and told her that they have seen record numbers of domestic violence and child abuse cases.

“I was trying to address as many areas of struggle as I could,” she said.

Puddin’, which is owned by Toyin Alli, serves Southern-style comfort food, according to the food truck’s website. Sorrell chose the truck from a recommendation of a staffer at N Street Village.

Sorrell told Tysons Reporter that she wanted to do more than provide canned food meals. Through Puddin’, she is able to connect recipients with meals they could enjoy.

She added that she wants to help replicate the joy that she feels when she is able to enjoy a nice meal with some friends.

As of this morning, the campaign has raised $1,760 out of $2,500. If the campaign doesn’t raise the full amount, Sorrell said she would donate the rest from the signing bonus from her new job.

The campaign will run through Aug. 1, according to the GoFundMe.

“My fear is to be ever complacent,” Sorrell said, adding that she hopes other people will assist with outreach and take advantage of free time to help others.

Photo via Puddin’/Facebook

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AU Prof Wins Republican Primary — “American University professor Daniel Gade won Virginia’s Republican Senate primary and will challenge Sen. Mark Warner (D) in November.” [The Hill]

Local Lauded for Social Media Efforts — “The Vienna Business Association on June 22 awarded its first annual Corporate Social Responsibility Award to Vienna resident Lydia Russo… Founder of the Vienna VA Foodies Facebook group, Russo has raised money and social awareness and encouraged community action for food-insecure families, front-line workers, first-responders and Vienna restaurants.” [Inside NoVa]

Back to School Support — “Northern Virginia parents are generally comfortable with their students returning to school classrooms this fall, assuming precautions are taken to control the spread of COVID-19, according to a survey conducted on InsideNoVa.com.” [Inside NoVa]

FCPS Options for Fall — “Fairfax County Public Schools will offer students two plans for the upcoming school year: 100 percent online learning or part-time classroom instruction.” [Inside NoVa]

Hotels Housing Homeless — “At least six hotels are on board to shelter vulnerable persons around Fairfax County. According to the latest Fairfax County Health and Human Services update, 241 hotel rooms were occupied with 255 guests as of June 16. So far, 456 rooms in six hotels have been secured for the program.” [Patch]

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Local students wanted to tackle a service project that would use disposable items, so they decided to make mats from plastic bags for veterans who are homeless.

Students in Sheryl Jones’ class at Kilmer Middle School (8100 Wolftrap Road) made the mats from donated plastic grocery bags, according to a press release from Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS).

“The students really took [the idea] and then ran with it,” Jones, an 8th-grade science teacher, said in an FCPS video. “They watched YouTube videos to learn how to do it and then they created their own assembly line and system.”

The students said in the video that the insulated and waterproof mats are easy for veterans who are homeless to transport.

Each mat, which was roughly 6 feet by 3.5. feet, required about 700-800 bags and six to eight hours to weave. The students split up the duties, directing some to cut off the handles, while others wove the mats.

“Some of the Kilmer students even took the mats home to continue working on them,” according to the press release.

The students gave the mats to Homeless Hope, a nonprofit that provides clothing and supplies to people who are homeless in D.C., the press release said.

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