Last week’s survey of chronically homeless people living in encampments and cars around Fairfax County revealed some new data about that segment of the homeless population and has also energized the broader community to try and help some of those people get into housing.
“I think there is just a huge amount of hopefulness,” said Dean Klein, director of the county’s Office to Prevent and End Homelessness. “People are really energized to find housing and service solutions.”
Last week, teams of volunteers interviewed 462 homeless people living in the woods, in their cars and temporarily staying at the county’s winter emergency shelters. The effort was the kickoff of the 100,000 Homes Fairfax Campaign, the local portion of a national campaign to find housing for chronically homeless individuals.
Volunteers, including county supervisors and local nonprofit leaders, said it was a very moving experience to be welcomed into the camps that people call home and to speak with homeless people about their individual situations.
“It was one of the most powerful experiences that I have ever had,” said Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Sharon Bulova (D-At large).
The power of that experience is starting to translate to donations and other pledges to support the cause. At a debriefing meeting Monday, multiple donors from businesses and faith communities pledged to help provide housing and services for homeless individuals, Klein said.
“We have an awful lot of great partners in this community,” said Supervisor Cathy Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill). “[Monday] was a call to action and people stepped up.”
The survey also revealed some new statistics about the population of people who live in the woods and on the streets.
Nearly half are employed, a fact that Klein said many people would likely find surprising.
“That fact really shows the resilience of people who are homeless,” he said, given that they are able to hold down jobs while sleeping in a tent every night.
In the younger segment of the homeless population, the surveys also revealed some connection to the foster care system. About 25 percent of the people surveyed were 18 to 34 years old, and of that group about one third had been in the foster care system.
The most common causes of homelessness, according to the surveys, were the loss of a job or the inability to afford rent and utilities.
The survey also found that about 40 percent of the people interviewed have a disability and about 10 percent are military veterans.
Although the other information helps paint a picture of the county’s homeless population, the main purpose of the survey that volunteers were completing was to assess individuals’ vulnerability.
More than 100 were identified as being at high risk for mortality due to factors like being over 60 years old, having sustained cold weather injuries, multiple emergency room visits, kidney or liver disease, or chronic substance abuse.
Those individuals who are at highest risk would receive priority for getting into housing programs as new opportunities arise, Klein said.