FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. (7New) — Reston Parkway is a major thoroughfare in Reston, and Saturday on either side of it there will be at least 100 “tents,” made up of emergency thermal blankets, lined up on the sidewalk.
They will be out there from 5 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 12 to 7 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 13.
“The significance of the timing is that’s how long you check into a hypothermia center. At 7 a.m. you’re given a bag and told to check out. At 7 a.m. the temperatures don’t change that drastically, it’s cold outside,” Sarah Selvaraj-Dsouza, Executive Director of Reston Strong said. It’s hard for an individual, it’s like hunger, when your basic need is not met you cannot focus on getting your life together. You can’t focus on getting a job or getting clean or getting the mental health support you need when you’re constantly worrying about where am I going to sleep tonight, where am I going to use the bathroom in a few hours. That’s the struggle and COVID has sort of brought it to the forefront because a lot of the public facilities they would use are no longer available to them.”
The advocacy event this weekend is part of Reston Strong’s “Neighbors in Tents Initiative” to bring awareness to the growing homeless community in Reston and advocate for long-term affordable housing.
“We’re asking for zoning to allow temporary transitional use of commercial buildings that are sitting vacant, which can easily be reused and used to housing,” Selvaraj-Dsouza said.
Selvaraj-Dsouza said Reston Strong started giving hot meals during Thanksgiving and that is when the advocacy group realized a portion of the community lives in tents.
“Since then, now every Friday we do grocery drops for them and we have seen the numbers double in months. And we have a lot of the COVID fail-safes coming to an end,” Selvaraj-Dsouza said.
Reston Strong, along with community partners like the Fairfax County NAACP, expects these numbers to go up and hopes the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors will act quickly to address the issue of homelessness rising in Reston with creating more low-income housing.
“There are several commercial units sitting in industrial areas, which Reston is not industrial anymore. A lot of our local industrial businesses have picked up and moved and so those buildings are sitting vacant, so we need to absolutely look at repurposing them for housing” Selvaraj-Dsouza said.
Karen Campblin, Presidents of the Fairfax County NAACP branch said, “With development, we know our rest and our mortgages are going up significantly every year. Every year. It’s getting harder just for your average normal family to be able to afford a safe and clean environment where they can put their heads down every day. So, we need to make sure that as we improve and develop Fairfax County, that no one gets left behind.”
After the emergency thermal blankets are used to line the Reston Parkway as tents, Reston Strong said they will be donated to local shelters and people experiencing homelessness.
If you would like to volunteer to help set up the tent on Saturday, click here.