Fairfax County identifies, registers its homeless

While you sleep in the comfort of your home, thousands around the region spend the night outside on the streets in cars or shelters.

More than 1,500 people were homeless in the Falls Church region last year alone, but now the growing local problem is being addressed in a different way. For the first time, Fairfax County is trying to identify and register its homeless with the help of volunteers. The work began this week at 4 a.m.

In an empty parking lot, volunteers discovered a man sound asleep, staying warm with the engine running. The former pastry chef recently lost his job. He asked to remain anonymous for fear his friend and family would find out, but he did share details off-camera that will be critical in getting him back on his feet.

“We’re trying to develop an accurate census,” says Theron Patrick, a volunteer. “How many homeless people do we have, what condition are they in, and if we can identify the people who are in greatest danger of death.”

The new approach, part of a nationwide campaign known as "100,000 Homes," is a way for Fairfax County to create a more accurate registry and then prioritize support services. Before, they relied greatly on a one-day homeless assessment, usually conducted by outreach workers.

“In the last two years we’ve seen an increase in the chronic homeless population by 100 individuals in two years,” says Dean Klein of the Office to Prevent and End Homelessness.

Church property and dark corners around shopping centers have been identified as homeless hot spots. Around 200 volunteers are using this week{ } to go to those locations and provide outreach.

“I have to do something worthwhile,” says Patrick.

“That’s when we’re going to meet up with them and find people who are sleeping unsheltered,” says Tom Nichols of Volunteers of America Chesapeake.

But there are others like Lonnie Pratt Jr. who they’re also trying to help. Due to unemployment and medical problems, he’s been spending countless nights at churches and shelters.

“I’m looking for a good outcome down the road, so hopefully they can help me out,” he says.

“These are real people,” says Patrick. “They’re not wasted. They’re only wasted if we give up.”

By the time the sun is out the surveys might be over, but the work isn’t. On Monday, the volunteers will meet once again for a debriefing where they’ll share their personal stories and discuss ways to help those they’ve encountered.