Photo of people experiencing homelessness sleeping in the cold at the Rosslyn Metro Station in 2013.
Rick Skull/SelectingStones.com

As construction nears completion, the $6.6 million Arlington Homeless Services Center is highly anticipated. Arlington county government closed on the seven story office building at 2020 14th Street North in 2012, and authorized construction in February of last year. The county will contract Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network (A-SPAN) to operate the new facility. These operations will take up three stories of the building near Courthouse Metro station, with the remaining four eventually becoming offices for county government.

A small but vocal group of residents in the neighborhood opposed the shelter for security reasons; they were worried about the criminal backgrounds of shelter guests, though A-SPAN has operated Arlington’s Emergency Winter Shelter less than two blocks away for the past twenty years.

The winter shelter operates during hypothermia season, November 1 through the end of March, and stays open from 4 p.m. to 9 a.m. The emergency shelter is equipped with 56 beds; additional mats can be placed on the floor as needed. On January 7 Arlington News Channel 8 reported the shelter was filled to capacity but that no one was being turned out into the cold. Staff told the reporter, “If they’re being turned away from here, best believe we’re sending them someplace else.” The shelter serves meals and provides check-ups on site. It also connects guests to other services such as housing assistance and mental health treatment. The new Homeless Services Center will open its doors on May 18 to provide 24/7 year-round shelter: 50 permanent beds, 25 additional beds during the hypothermia season, and five medical beds. The Emergency Winter Shelter will extend its services past March 31 until the opening.

“Due to the circumstances, we think keeping it open the extra time will help with the transition,” said Kurt Larrick, Communications Manager for Arlington County Department of Human Services. “We’re excited and looking forward to the Center opening. It will be a major step toward our goal of ending homelessness in our community.”

In 2014, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Government’s annual point in time count found 291 people to be literally homeless in Arlington County. That number is down 39 percent from 479 in 2013.

A-SPAN sees the new center as a model shelter. In the District, there is a right to shelter only during the hypothermia season. Unless the city’s hypothermia alert is active, District shelters operate from 7pm – 7am.

The Fair Budget Coalition delivered its 2015 budget report to City Council on Monday, January 26.The report identified five goals with guidance for implementation in FY2016, to “serve those who are struggling and explore long-term solutions that address the root causes of problems.” Year round shelter was included in the recommendation.