(Updated at 3:30 p.m.) A demonstration that brought tents to the North County Government Center in a push for more supportive housing in Reston has come to a close after the final tent was officially removed late last week.
Reston Strong, the nonprofit organization behind the protest to increase Fairfax County’s affordable housing stock, announced that the last tent in front of Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn’s office was removed after it was first installed on April 4.
The woman living in the tent was moved into permanent supportive housing with access to other services, Reston Strong announced on Thursday (Oct. 13).
The announcement culminates the group’s Neighbors in Tents campaign, which aims to address homelessness in the county.
The organization says that more than 20 tents across four sites still remain in Reston.
“The largest encampment is home to individuals who were also displaced in the spring when hypothermia shelters closed,” Reston Strong wrote in a statement. “Several are women, elderly, and LGBTQ+ who are still waiting on housing. The crisis is far from over but for today we celebrate, for tonight one of our beloved unhoused neighbors will sleep in her own bed, in her own room, in her own apartment.”
When asked for comment, Alcorn’s office deferred to the Fairfax County Department of Housing and Community Development.
Ben Boxer, a spokesperson for the department, lauded community partners for their efforts to eradicate homelessness in the county:
All of our Fairfax County shelters are open, and we encourage anyone who is experiencing homelessness to please contact or visit us at these locations where they may obtain food, showers, laundry, counseling, and other assistance to help them meet their basic needs. We also have experienced and knowledgeable individuals at these locations working to create housing plans to meet the individual preferences and needs of our guests. Additionally, we are actively preparing for our upcoming Hypothermia Prevention Program season, beginning December 1, which provides added capacity to ensure that no one has to sleep outside this winter.
On Tuesday, the organization marked the 100th day of unhoused residents staying in a temporary tent community in front of the North County Government building. The tents were set up this spring as an alternative after the county’s hypothermia and COVID-19 emergency shelters wound down.
“Tents were not what Reston Strong wanted. They were a temporary solution in the absence of a governmental one,” organizers said.
Organizers say they are still waiting for permanent solutions, including a mobile mental health crisis unit in Reston and changes to the county’s zoning ordinance that would allow temporary transitional housing as a by-right use in empty commercial buildings and spaces.
In a symbolic gesture, the group installed 100 black flags around the center and delivered funeral wreaths with 100 black roses to Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay and Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn.
Now, with temperatures rising, Reston Strong is asking the county to provide 24-hour cooling centers and access to drinking water for individuals in the temporary tents.
In a statement to FFXnow, Alcorn noted that discussion on the issue has been ongoing for several years.
“This is not a new challenge for Reston and Fairfax County and I am committed to seeking long-term solutions,” Alcorn wrote in a statement.
In April, Alcorn directed the county’s Office to Prevent and End Homelessness to review the current performance of the county and nonprofit service providers. He asked staff to update the county’s homelessness strategies in coordination with the Affordable Housing Advisory Council.
He also set a goal of adding 1,000 affordable housing units in the Hunter Mill District by the end of 2027.
“Everyone in our community, regardless of circumstances, deserved to be treated with respect and humanity,” Reston Strong organizers wrote.
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.