Friday, April 1, 2011

UPDATED: The Wrong Way to Help the Homeless

There was an article in today's Washington Post regarding a VDOT decision to clear homeless people from some road right-of-way.

VDOT decided to clear them in response to complaints from one of my colleagues who was concerned about people walking to their tents in the dark at night. A VDOT right-of-way next to an interstate exit was probably not the best place to camp out. However, from reading the article, it sounds like VDOT simply chased them off the land.

Homelessness is a serious and often overlooked problem in Northern Virginia. There has always been a significant homeless population in the U.S. 1 Corridor. On occasion, there have been efforts to clear people off homeless camps in our community.

However, when this has been done in the Mt. Vernon area, it is usually done in coordination with our charities on U.S. 1 such as New Hope Housing and United Community Ministries. In fact, one of these events was resulted in the creation of the Ventures in Community Hypothermia Outreach Program (VIC-HOP) that the General Assembly commended last year.

Homelessness is typically secondary to other problems in people's lives - frequently mental illness. Whenever the homeless are cleared from property, it ought to be done in coordination with case workers to ensure that as people are moved, they are not just pushed along to become someone else's problem, but are given an opportunity to receive services that might help them break the cycle of homelessness.

From the news reports, it sounds like this was done the wrong way.

UPDATED - Here is a some video from a Channel 9 News Story on the eviction.


  1. Thank you for sharing. I completely agree with you that case management services should be coordinated when doing this. Usually, individuals living in the woods, under bridges, etc. make up the chronically homeless (experiencing homelessness 4+ years). They are the most vulnerable, and would benefit the most from the "Housing First" model. I'm not sure how familiar you are with the model, Delegate, but it dictates that if you house the person first, thus meeting their more basic, physiological needs of shelter, food, and water, then they can begin addressing higher needs of mental health and substance abuse treatment. It makes sense to me, because how on earth can you expect someone to focus on treatment or the like, when they don't even know where they're going to sleep at night or get their next meal?
    Thank you for highlighting homelessness in Virginia. I hope you can help make significant policy changes in this area next session.

  2. The homeless people I talk to have never said that this was done when they have been moved from their encampments. I'm not sure what good it would do anyway since New Hope Housing and UCM do not have the resources to help them find immediate alternative shelter. The Kennedy Shelter is always full and UCM has no magic wand to find them new housing. Many people living in the woods or in cars already want services but can't get them because of all of the obstacles put in their way when they need them. Many of the agencies also promulgate rules that cannot be followed by those who need services because they are too sick or disabled to comply. What happens on Rt. 1 is often as inhumane as what is happening in PW.