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The Fairfax Model for the End of Homelessness

Unemployed and HomelessThe Fairfax Connection recently published a guest editorial by Gerald E. Connolly, who represents the 11th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. Located in the state of Virginia, Fairfax County is one of the most affluent areas in the entire nation, so of course its problems would not be the same as, for instance, Los Angeles County’s. Still, it has declared a goal of ending homelessness by the year 2018.

In fact, Fairfax County, Connolly says, reported a 15% decrease in its homeless population over the last four years. He salutes this successful step toward ending homelessness, and attributes it to “a years-long effort by Fairfax County and its community partners.” His career also included 14 years on the board of the Fairfax County supervisors and, back when he was its chairman, he noticed something that may have surprised the supervisors, but does not surprise House the Homeless. Listen to this:

Particularly alarming was the fact that 60 percent of homeless adults in families already were employed.

Yes, Fairfax County in 2003 recognized the people we know as the economic homeless — they have jobs, they go to work, and they still can’t afford a place to live. Two basic reasons for that: they don’t make enough money and housing is too expensive.

Connolly saw a need for affordable housing units. In practical terms, keeping existing housing is just as good as putting up new housing. Either way, people have places to live.

He says,

Knowing government could not tackle these challenges alone, we convened separate community summits to devise action plans to preserve affordable housing and to prevent homelessness. The results were innovative partnerships with the non-profit, faith and business communities that yielded positive results, among them the preservation of more than 2,200 affordable housing units…

The plan approved by the Fairfax board of supervisors in March of 2008 is available online as a 64-page PDF file. Strong participation from the business community is one of its guiding principles. In his guest editorial, Connolly mentions how much benefit comes to the whole community when homelessness is reduced or eradicated. Hopefully, one of the things learned was that homeless people, too, are the community. Once you get the homeless back into housing, it’s kind of hard to tell them apart from anybody else. (That was a bit of dark humor, by the way.)

What was done in Fairfax County is worth looking at for replicability elsewhere. Rep. Connolly thinks so too, which is why he says,

I wish I could bring some of my colleagues from Congress to Fairfax to witness the value of these investments firsthand… At the federal level, I’ve sponsored legislation in the U.S. of Representatives to replicate the Fairfax model with the aim of preventing homelessness for all Americans.

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As House the Homeless points out, Congress is always talking about jobs, tax savings, social responsibility, and economic responsibility. As House the Homeless also constantly points out, the Universal Living Wage offers all these things. Now, every member of the Senate and the House of Representatives in Washington has received a copy of Looking Up at the Bottom Line, by Richard R. Troxell. All the state governors and the President himself have received copies of the book. Dare we hope that some might listen?

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Source: “Guest Editorial: Partners in Ending Homelessness,” Fairfax Connection, 08/16/11
Image by JanahPhotography (Janah Hattingh), used under its Creative Commons license.

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