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After identifying a growing population of chronically homeless people living in Fairfax County, the county and its partner nonprofit agencies are taking new steps to try and move some of those people into stable housing.

There are an estimated 350 people living on the streets or in the woods in the county, which is up by about 100 people from the estimate in 2010. The increase can at least in part be attributed to better tracking and reporting, said Dean Klein, director of the Office to Prevent and End Homelessness.

The county’s Partnership to Prevent and End Homelessness is now joining the 100,000 homes campaign, a nationwide effort to find permanent homes for 100,000 homeless people by July 2014.

Fairfax County has set a goal of housing 50 chronically homeless people per year over the next three years, Klein said.

People are defined as “chronically homeless” when they have been homeless for years and have not been successful in other housing programs, often due to substance abuse or mental health issues.

The effort will have its major kickoff in late February with “Registry Week,” said Tom Barnett, program manager in the Office to Prevent and End Homelessness.

During Registry Week, volunteers, with the support of professionals, will fan out to known homeless camp sites to create in-depth profiles of each individual. The profiles will allow the county and nonprofits to better match individuals with services to meet their specific needs, Barnett said.

In addition to helping homeless individuals, the 100,000 Homes Campaign aims to get the community more engaged in the issue of homelessness by developing personal connections.

“The volunteers will get a chance to interact with homeless people in a way they never have before,” Barnett said.

The county is recruiting about 200 volunteers for this project, Klein said.

In the interim, groups involved in the initiative are starting to survey some individuals who come into the winter hypothermia shelters in the county, said Jerrianne Anthony, singles services team leader with FACETS, one of the nonprofit groups working on the project.

They are also mapping “hot spots” where homeless people sleep throughout the county, Anthony said, and have identified about 36 so far. These are the areas that hundreds of volunteers will go to next month.

While this model has shown some success in other regions, county officials acknowledge that it will be a challenge to meet their goals.

“Even finding the housing is going to be a significant challenge,” said Deputy County Executive Patricia Harrison.

Some county supervisors were cautious about using scarce resources to focus on the most difficult clients, instead of on homeless families who may be easier to help with fewer resources.

“When you have so many others that are in need ... I hope that we’re not expending huge amounts of those resources with far less chance of success,” said Supervisor Michael Frey (R-Sully).

However, just because it is a challenging population does not mean they are beyond hope, said Barnett, who worked with chronically homeless individuals in Richmond prior to coming to Fairfax County.

“Nationally, this campaign has shown a 90 percent success rate of keeping people in a home,” he said. “I’ve seen it work and I know it can work in this community.”

kschumitz@fairfaxtimes.com