Tysons, VA

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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Next week, listeners can tune into another season of the Second Story podcast about homelessness.

The new season will premiere on Tuesday (Oct. 22), featuring stories of young adults and teens who overcame struggles of homelessness and abuse.

In the first episode, listeners will hear from a young woman named Bree who managed to escape an abusive relationship, Abigail Brougher, the podcast’s producer, said.

Second Story is a non-profit organization based out of Vienna that assists young people struggling with issues like homelessness, poverty or domestic issues.

The podcast was started to spread the organization’s message and educate the public on these issues within the community, Brougher said.

Bree’s story was chosen for the season premiere because Brougher said it set the tone for the rest of the season.

Bree took shelter with Second Story as a young mother and was later recruited to speak out about domestic violence on the podcast. Brougher said that Bree was “especially vulnerable” during this time in her life, and hearing her story will help people to acknowledge the issue of domestic violence.

Bree was forced to decide between homelessness or the constant threat of abuse, Brougher said. “It’s fairly common for young mothers to feel like they have to choose.”

Domestic Violence Awareness Month also happens to fall in October and calls attention to the issue that affects everyone, regardless of gender, race or socioeconomic status.

One in four women and one in nine men will be victims of domestic violence in their lives, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

The podcasts tend to be around 30 minutes long, and new episodes will be available for free every Tuesday on Second Story’s website, as well as Spotify and Stitcher.

This season will consist of roughly nine episodes and feature various themes like domestic violence, PTSD and family trauma, Brougher said.

“Giving voice to this issue changes the narrative,” Brougher said.

Photo via Facebook

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The Tysons area might see fewer panhandlers in the future now that Fairfax County is looking to discourage them on medians and intersections.

On Tuesday (July 16), the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved a board matter that would prohibit “curb to curb” interaction between drivers and pedestrians.

Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity and Braddock District Supervisor John Cook, who jointly brought forward the board matter, argued that panhandling increased in the last two years county-wide mostly from rings attracted to Fairfax County’s wealthy residents.

“[Panhandling] has become massively greater,” Cook told the board, adding that it is dangerous for both the panhandlers and drivers. “It is a public safety issue.”

Several of fellow supervisors agreed, including Chairman Sharon Bulova.

Providence District Supervisor Linda Smyth pointed to examples in Tysons for how panhandling is becoming more frequent along more roads in the county.

“I see it daily at Nutley [Street] and Lee Hwy,” Smith said, adding that panhandlers along major roads undergoing work could pose safety hazards to drivers.

“And this is just another complication to have panhandlers there when people are trying to figure out [how to drive around construction on] Route 7 in Tysons,” she said. “People have complained about the fact that it isn’t safe for [panhandlers] to be out there.”

More from the board matter:

The board has sought to help those panhandlers in need by committing a significant portion of the county budget to providing services for those residents who are down on their luck. The board has encouraged residents to direct panhandlers to these county resources including shelters, food banks, health and job matching services, instead of giving small amounts of money. It is vitally important that we connect those in need with the right services and disincentivize panhandling.

Although homelessness in the county is shrinking, panhandling by roadways is becoming more and more prevalent. In 2017 alone, the Fairfax County Police department received over 2,100 calls related to panhandling and many more have been received by district offices. These calls detailed traffic issues, concerns about panhandler safety, and fears about a suspicious person at an intersection. As a county we devote significant resources to helping our residents in need and to keeping all our residents safe.

This isn’t the first time concerns about panhandling have popped up in Fairfax County. Commenters on a Reddit thread last year bemoaned a seemingly increasing number of panhandlers in Tysons.

Fairfax County Police Department has encouraged people to not give panhandlers money. “While we may get a good feeling by providing money to a panhandler, the reality is that panhandlers who are truly in need require more resources than small amounts of money,” according to the county’s website.

Cook and Herrity also pointed to other nearby jurisdictions, including the City of Winchester and Clarke and Frederick counties, for their “curb to curb” rules that restrict people on medians and intersections interacting with drivers.

The Board of Supervisors approved the board matter, which directs the county staff to create a proposed ordinance that would prohibit “any engagement of pedestrians with cars while on medians or intersections.” It notes that the ordinance would not restrict people’s free speech rights on sidewalks or affect kids’ advertising car washes.

The board will consider the proposal at the Public Safety Committee meeting on Sept. 17.

File photo

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The Tysons area narrowly avoided snowstorms that hit much of the rest of Virginia yesterday, but cold weather still ahead could pose a threat to the local homeless population.

According to the Mayo Clinic, visible signs that someone may be experiencing hypothermia include shivering, clumsiness, or signs of confusion or memory loss. Victims of hypothermia may have slurred speech or mumble, and may exhibit shallow breathing. Drowsiness, or unconsciousness, are also associated with hypothermia.

If you see a person who may be at risk of hypothermia, Fairfax County says you should call the police non-emergency number at 703-691-2131 for them to be taken to one of the local hypothermia prevention shelters.

The Hypothermia Prevention Program is part of the county’s efforts to prevent and end homelessness. Local hypothermia shelters operate seven days a week with a no turn-away policy outside of normal operating hours, based on weather conditions and temperatures.

The closest shelter to Tysons is the Falls Church Homeless Shelter at 217 Gordon Road, which is scheduled to operate seven days a week until March 31. Doors at the shelter open at 6 p.m. and close at 8 a.m. The shelter can accommodate twelve individuals.

The shelter provides a warm bed and case management services, which includes employment and housing assistance. Hot meals, prepared by families, faith communities and local restaurants, are delivered every evening.

The next closest is the Embry Rucker Community Shelter in Reston. Hot dinner, breakfast, bagged lunches, showers, laundry, and basic self-care supplies are all made available to individuals participating in the program.

At least once a week, nurse practitioners will be visiting the hypothermia shelters to check on patients, and medical outreach workers will visit to assist with enrollment into the Community Health Care Network’s free clinic.

Photo and graphic via Fairfax County Office to Prevent and End Homelessness.

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