USICH Blog

02/05/2014 - A Paradigm Shift: How Fairfax County Made Significant Gains in Ending Family Homelessness

By Dean Klein, MSW, Director, Office to Prevent and End Homelessness, Fairfax County, VA

In 2008, Fairfax County began a paradigm shift from managing homelessness to preventing and ending it. We joined with the city of Falls Church to create the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Partnership to Prevent and End Homelessness (hereafter referred to as the Partnership) which includes the Office to Prevent and End Homelessness, a county agency dedicated to this critical issue. We are one of only a handful of jurisdictions to create an agency focused solely on ending homelessness. The Partnership developed a ten-year plan to end homelessness in our 1.1 million person county just outside of Washington, DC. Focusing on homelessness prevention, diversion from shelter and rapid re-housing have been core components of our successful work. In addition to local funding, we have significantly invested Federal resources from the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program and Emergency Solutions Grant program to our efforts. These investments, along with our paradigm shift, are making a significant impact in our community. Since 2008, homelessness in our community has decreased by 26 percent. 

Our greatest gains in reducing homelessness have been with families. In addition to the efforts described above, we have redesigned our intake and assessment processes for families facing homelessness to more effectively and efficiently triage households in need of assistance. Since 2008, we have realized a 32 percent reduction in the number of people experiencing homelessness in families. In 2010, we began tracking length of stay and moves to permanent housing in addition to the data we already routinely collected. Since then, we have shortened the length of stay for families in shelter by 15 percent. Of great significance are the increases we have achieved in moving families to permanent housing from shelters. The number of people in families experiencing homelessness who have been permanently housed has increased by 155 percent!

While we have made great strides reducing the number of people in families experiencing homelessness, we also want to make a more significant difference in housing individuals experiencing chronic homelessness.  Many of these people struggle with addictions, disabilities, and mental illness. Suitable housing options with necessary supports are too few. This phenomenon is not unique to Fairfax County, which is one of the reasons why the Federal government prioritizes housing for this population and many communities are engaging in new efforts to house them.

In early 2013, the Partnership joined the 100,000 Homes Campaign, a national movement to permanently house 100,000 people experiencing chronic homelessness. Between February 23 and March 1, 2013, more than 200 volunteers canvassed our community at 4:00 in the morning to gather information about people who were experiencing homelessness in our community. The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, our county’s political body, is so supportive of our efforts that they joined the early morning survey teams and attended the community kick-offs and debriefings. Many people who were involved in the campaign described it as life-changing.

We used the information we gathered in the surveys to create a registry of people experiencing homelessness in our community, and identified 157 individuals as most vulnerable, or those who were most likely to die on our streets if they were not housed. Sixty-three individuals experiencing chronic homelessness, 34 of whom came from the Vulnerability List, have been housed since the Partnership joined the campaign.

Recently, Fairfax converted an emergency shelter to permanent housing, and now Mondloch Place houses 20 people who were formerly homeless. Through the addition of a new program and the re-purposing of two others, we will be able to house another 38 people experiencing homelessness.

In partnership with the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce, Connections Newspapers, and the Apple Federal Credit Union, last October the Partnership hosted its Third Annual Jeans Day- an awareness and fundraising campaign. More than 100 organizations and individuals participated. Because of a matching challenge grant from the Phillip L. Graham Fund we were able to raise in excess of $58,000, much of which will be used towards our efforts to house people experiencing chronic homelessness.

Preventing and ending chronic homelessness in times of extremely tight resources is an enormous challenge and while we haven’t completely resolved the issue, our innovative strategies certainly have us heading in the right direction. 

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