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Tents return to raise awareness about homelessness in Reston

The organization set up several tents outside county offices (via Reston Strong)

A familiar sight of tents returned to Reston Monday night (April 4), as a local advocacy organization seeks to raise awareness about homelessness and the lack of affordable housing alternatives in the area.

Right outside Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn’s office, Reston Strong set up tents to push officials to find solutions to homelessness. The campaign, coined Neighbors in Tents, launched formally in February.

The awareness campaign was timed to coincide with the closure of the county’s hypothermia shelters, which ran from Dec. 1 through March 31 this past winter.

“That means hundreds of people are back out on the street with no place to stay,” the organization’s state and policy director Mary Barthelson said. “Reston Strong volunteers have set up tents outside of Supervisor Alcorn’s office and are standing guard until a solution is found.”

In a statement, Alcorn noted that the end of the hypothermia program has been a challenge over the past decade and was exacerbated this year with the end of a two-year program to shelter people experiencing homelessness in hotels that was prompted by the pandemic.

Alcorn said he was unsuccessful in pushing the program into the spring due to a lack of trained staff to manage the program.

Still, the county was able to house 2,000 residents over two years and place 745 residents from hotel rooms into permanent housing, subsidized housing, and other housing options.

“While the hoteling and other ‘band aid’ solutions are important, it is imperative for all to understand that the underlying challenge is a severe lack of affordable housing, not just for the chronically homeless and other residents sheltering in tents but also for our essential workers,” Alcorn wrote in a statement.

While supportive of Reston Strong’s “right to direct political action,” Alcorn said he was against the organization’s efforts to create a new tent city “with the biohazards and assaults experience by the community several years ago.”

With the passage of time, this has proved counterproductive in our collective efforts to fund, site, and build permanent affordable housing, he stated.

“We need to move forward with a badly needed new homeless shelter, permanent supportive housing, and affordable housing for working families,” Alcorn said.

The Office to Prevent and End Homelessness, which is part of the Fairfax County Department of Housing and Community Development, says it is committed to pursuing sustainable solutions to eradicate homelessness.

Ben Boxer, the department’s spokesperson, noted that all of the county’s shelters are currently open.

“At these locations, individuals may obtain food, showers, laundry, counseling, and other assistance to help them meet their basic needs. We are also working with each individual at these locations to create housing plans based on their individual preferences and needs,” Boxer siad.

Alcorn said the bathroom of the Embry Rucker Community Shelter in Reston is available around-the-clock for use.

Reston Strong set up around 100 tents in February on Reston Parkway to raise awareness about homelessness in the community.

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