The most radical part of Bailey’s Shelter and Supportive Housing is not the 18 permanent housing units, the first in Fairfax County, or the four medical respite beds, which double the county’s stock.
The most radical part might be encapsulated by a folded card propped up on a table in apartment 209 that declares a home is a sanctuary, a place of comfort, security, and tranquility.
Fairfax County, New Hope Housing, and all the other entities that turned the new homeless shelter envisioned for the Bailey’s Crossroads area of Falls Church into a reality hope to prove that the card bears not empty words, but rather, an accurate description of the surrounding space.
It suggests a shelter that greets those who need it with reassurance and support, instead of scorn or shame.
“We at New Hope Housing talk a lot about hope and hospitality is what we offer,” Pam Michell, the nonprofit’s executive director, said during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new building on Oct. 24. “We’ve been trying to offer that in some facilities that are not quite as wonderful as we would like. This one really screams hope and hospitality.”
Bailey’s Shelter and Supportive Housing officially opened to clients on Nov. 1 with the goal of completing the move-in by Nov. 15, when New Hope’s no-turn-away policy takes effect for the winter months.
The long-awaited replacement for a homeless shelter that had been open in Bailey’s Crossroads since 1987, the new Bailey’s Shelter had a bumpy road into existence.
The Bailey’s Crossroads Community Shelter that Fairfax County owned and New Hope Housing operated on Moncure Avenue, just a couple blocks down the road from the new facility, was still generally serviceable when the county began contemplating an upgrade about three years ago, according to Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross.
However, the building had started to decline with old, inefficient infrastructure not up to Americans with Disabilities Act standards and a cramped, counterintuitive design. For example, to reach the back offices, staff members had to walk through a conference room sometimes used to conduct one-on-one client meetings.
“It’s very inconvenient just in terms of the actual functionality of the building,” New Hope Housing community and volunteer coordinator Leo Patrician said.
Replacing the Bailey’s Crossroads shelter went from a future goal to an urgent need in February 2016 when the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors signed off on a land swap deal between site owner Landmark Atlantic LLC and real estate investment firm AvalonBay Communities, which had been hired by the developer Weissberg Corp. to redevelop the lot into a mixed-use center.
AvalonBay’s leasing agreement required that Bailey’s Crossroads Community Shelter be vacated by Mar. 1, 2017, leaving little time for Fairfax County to relocate the facility.
The county announced in March 2016 that, while working to find a permanent site, it would build a temporary shelter in county-owned open space behind the Lincolnia Senior Center in Alexandria.
Residents who live near the senior center quickly and passionately expressed their disapproval of Fairfax County’s location choice, fretting over the expected loss of green space and arguing that the shelter would be inappropriate for the neighborhood.
Just as the conflict escalated to legal action on the part of one homeowners’ association, Fairfax County revealed on July 18, 2016 that the site of a shuttered veterinary clinic on 5914 Seminary Road had emerged as a possible location for a permanent shelter.
The veterinarian who owned the clinic had retired and sold the site to a buyer who ultimately opted not to pursue any development, leaving the door open for the county to purchase the land, according to Gross.
The county completed the property purchase on Sept. 14, 2016, according to the Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services.
In another stroke of luck, AvalonBay ended its agreement for the Moncure Avenue property, and the county negotiated a new land swap deal with the developer Columbia Crossing, which was interested in acquiring property on Moncure Avenue for new housing and office buildings.
The deal approved by the Board of Supervisors, which Fairfax County announced on Mar. 1, 2017, set an Oct. 31, 2019 deadline for vacating the Bailey’s Crossroads Community Shelter, giving the county enough time to construct a permanent facility on the Seminary Road site.
“The stars aligned and we were able to identify this particular location, which had not been available before, and it was in the perfect location,” Gross said. “…Now we have this beautiful new shelter close to transportation, employment, county services. There’s a park just a few feet away.”
With a final budget of about $17 million funded through a 2016 human services and community development bond, Bailey’s Shelter and Supportive Housing is a 23,000 square-foot facility with 52 emergency shelter beds for single adults, including four medical respite beds for people who need medical services but are not sick enough to be admitted into a hospital.
There were previously only four medical respite beds in the entire county.
“These medical respite beds provide a lifelong level of support that currently our shelters really struggle to provide,” Fairfax County Office to Prevent and End Homelessness director Dean Klein said. “So, that’s really a very exciting element to this facility.”
As the community and volunteer coordinator for New Hope Housing, Patrician says he is excited about the flexibility offered by the more spacious new shelter, which has a basement with a cafeteria that can be converted into a hypothermia shelter to accommodate 50 to 70 additional people during the winter.
The new Bailey’s Shelter has an information technology room that can be used to teach clients digital literacy, which will be part of a host of life skills classes that Patrician hopes to organize. His other programming ideas include art therapy, English and Spanish language classes, musical performances, yoga, and bingo.
The building also has interview rooms that are separate from the administrative offices, so staff members can talk to clients in a more private setting.
However, the permanent, supportive apartment units are what most distinguish Bailey’s Shelter from not only its predecessor, but also the five other emergency shelters in Fairfax County.
Fairfax County supervisors adopted a 10-year plan to prevent and end homelessness on Mar. 31, 2008 that emphasized placing people in permanent housing, rather than simply taking them into shelters.
That housing-first approach has reduced the number of people in Fairfax County and the City of Falls Church who are homeless by 44 percent, or 801 people, between 2008 and 2019, though the 2019 point-in-time count saw a 5 percent increase of 47 individuals from the 2018 count.
At the same time, some people need more intensive, long-term support. The Bailey’s Shelter is the first Fairfax County facility to co-locate permanent housing units with the short-term shelter beds, a design that might become more common in the future.
Outfitted with a bed, kitchen, and a shower with a bath chair for people with physical challenges, the apartment units are reserved for people who have a disability and are chronically homeless, meaning they have been homeless for at least a year or four times within the past three years.
Both apartment and shelter residents have access to on-site medical services, case management, behavioral health services, and other resources provided by New Hope Housing and its community partners.
“The building is designed to provide flexibility where multiple needs can be efficiently met in one location,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova said. “…It’s a wonderful example of how we can all work together to solve our most pressing challenges and to make a real difference.”
To make the furnished but utilitarian apartments feel more comfortable, individuals, families, and organizations can adopt a unit by donating new towels, toiletries, utensils, and other needed household items.
14 units had been adopted as of the Oct. 24 ribbon-cutting ceremony and tour, including one by someone who volunteered that day. Donors so far include the Fairfax County Office to Prevent and End Homelessness, the Rotary Club of Bailey’s Crossroads, the local St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, the Van Allen Bacchus family, and Shane and Nicole McCullar.
New Hope Housing outreach case manager Danica Hawkins and Fairfax permanent supportive housing programs director Candice Stancil see Bailey’s Shelter and Supportive Housing as evidence that Fairfax County is willing to invest in its most vulnerable community members.
“This is kind of a breath of new life into the facility and into the resources that we have here, and that’s really important,” Hawkins said. “Just being here, we’re so excited, and we’re going to be able to make sure that our clients are really excited as well, because they’re coming in and they’re seeing that the county cares about them.”