YOUR VIEW | Everyone Needs A Home in Every Economy

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To the editor:

In response to a letter to the editor in last weeks issue (Taxes to Solve the Budget Gap? Cut It Out, November 19 23,2009):

Over this past year, we at the Community Services Board have been celebrating 40 years of service to the people of Alexandria. We provide care and help to some of the most vulnerable citizens of our city, those with mental illness, substance abuse disorders and intellectual disabilities. Over the years, that has included a number of programs serving everyone from infants at risk of developmental disabilities to senior citizens who need help recovering from mental illness.

So it is fitting as the year winds to an end that we celebrate the completion of Safe Haven, our program to provide permanent supportive housing for those who are chronically homeless. The building at 115 North Patrick St. should be completed in December and we should be serving clients there by spring.

The project had been discussed for several years as advocates for the homeless checked out existing permanent housing programs throughout the country. Back in 2004 we received permission from the city to apply for HUD funding for the Safe Haven, which became part of Alexandrias 10-year plan to end homelessness. It was not a novel concept; we were far from pioneers and had plenty of expertise to drawn upon.

Similar projects were up and running in Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York, Minnesota, Connecticut and Seattle, to name just a few, and the news from these places was good. Not only did such housing get fragile people off the streets, it cut costs significantly in other areas. Seattle reported that mental health hospitalizations dropped by 89 percent and arrests and incarcerations by 93 percent.  Baltimore said emergency room use dropped by 75 percent while Minnesota reported that emergency detoxification days dropped by 84 percent. Right here in our own backyard there were Safe Havens in Arlington and Falls Church.

When completed, the Safe Haven program, now called Rileys Place, will contain three apartments, each housing four residents. All but two of the residents will have their own bedrooms, modest in size, but a room of their own. In addition to housing they will be provided with the help they need from a 24-hour staff.

Where will these homeless in need of housing and care come from? Right here on the streets of Alexandria where they currently live, uncared for, disintegrating. As years of data demonstrate on any given day or night there are at least 100 homeless individuals on our streets, many of them long-time residents and even natives of Alexandria.

While the project has taken awhile, since the time that permits have been approved there have been no delays in moving the project toward completion, and there have been no cost overruns. The costs are shared. The citys piece is $111,891 a year, HUDs $54,608. In addition there is state funding, clients fees and Medicaid.

The project is not cheap. Nor is it extravagant or untried. The cost of not doing anything is much higher. 

Has everyone forgotten what increased homelessness looks like? Do we really want an Alexandria where our railroad station, bus depot, parking garages, church steps, underpasses and alley ways double as emergency housing?

Do Alexandrians really think that caring for the sick, housing the homeless and feeding the hungry are luxuries? I dont think so.

That is why we ask all of you to join us in our joy that one more piece of the safety net is in place. Once it is open and running we will celebrate with an open house. And we invite all of you to join us. 

Mary Anne Weber
Chair, Community Services Board

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