A year-round homeless service center on two floors of the seven-story office building at 2020 14th St. N. in the Courthouse community has received final approval from the Arlington County Board.
For advocates of ending homelessness, it was a victory a long time in the making. It advances Arlington's goal of providing the services needed to move more of the area's homeless into permanent housing. And it concentrates those services in a single place that's open all year as opposed to the current emergency winter shelter, about a block away, that's open only during the winter.
For some residents of Woodbury Heights, the condominium building next door to the planned center, it was the latest move by Arlington County to balance the good of the many on the backs of the few. Residents for months have asked that the county assuage their fears that the new center will erode their security and their property values. It's the latest frustration in a long process that seems to have been pre-determined.
'A Defining Moment'
The board formally approved the permit for the facility on Saturday.
The Rev. Bill Cobb of Central United Methodist Church in Ballston called it "a defining moment."
"It may be one of the most important things you're going to do for the people of the county for years to come," Cobb told the board.
The new center will hold 50 permanent beds, five medical respite beds and an extra 25 beds during the winter.
The county has agreed to establish a neighborhood advisory committee, which will include residents and business owners whose property abuts the site. The county will designate a neighborhood liaison to help foster communication between the center and the surrounding community. And the county will develop a security plan, which so far includes installing security cameras and a security guard from 4 p.m. to midnight daily.
Woodbury Heights residents have repeatedly asked for 24/7 security.
"You must understand our pure frustration," condo owner Asieh Kehyari told the board. "For a year and a half, we've been beating our heads against the wall trying to have a meaningful dialogue and trying to have our concerns addressed. We deserve to live in an area, to live in a home where we feel safe."
Security Guard, Other Measures Added
From the county's perspective, the proposed security guard already is "unprecedented" — none of the county's five other shelters, including the current emergency winter shelter, have guards. The guard and other measures were added following a series of community meetings held at Key Elementary School.
Ken Robinson, president of the Woodbury Heights Condominium Association, called that "a minor step, a good step."
"They've made some changes here that are very positive. But they have to do more to safeguard the community," he said.
Board member Libby Garvey said sometimes people who get an answer they don't like feel like their voices aren't being heard. The county board, she told the residents, has been listening.
Garvey said she thought the new center would actually increase security in the Courthouse community. The homeless will no longer have to hang around outside the emergency shelter waiting for it to open, she said.
"It's in all of our interest to see that people who need help are getting it," Garvey said. She said she felt a security guard and cameras were only necessary to relive some of the neighborhood's anxiety.
"There's more danger from the people we don't know and we aren't treating who are in our midst all the time… than from the people in the shelter," she said.
Woodbury Heights Residents Asked to 'Stick With Us'
Vice Chairman Jay Fisette said he knew of people who moved out of one Arlington neighborhood because a group home moved in. That home has since become a welcome part of that community; he implored Woodbury Heights residents to "stick with us" so that such a relationship can develop in Courthouse.
The Arlington Street People's Assistance Network, or A-SPAN, will operate the year-round center, which will house primarily single individuals. Homeless families already are given priority and moved into residential facilities as they become available.
Homelessness "can happen to any of us," A-SPAN Executive Director Kathy Sibert told the board. "That's why this homeless service center is so important to me: Because we've never had an answer to the homeless single on the streets of Arlington."
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