Approved at the UUCF Annual Meeting, Jun. 4, 2006
Be It Resolved
The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fairfax pledges to work to end homelessness in our home, Fairfax County, and by example and action, to extend that work to end homelessness in our region, in our state and our nation. Our church leadership, ministers and congregation will take individual and collective action to end homeless.
UUCF will support Single Resident Occupancy development for the benefit of our neighbors in the community through active participation at public hearings and support for SRO (Single Residence Occupancy) projects.
More than 150 children and adults in our UUCF community volunteered their time, talents, and compassion in the hypothermia project this winter. While we sheltered and fed as many as 88 homeless adults each evening that the hypothermia shelter was housed at UUCF, we also got to know our guests. Some had serious mental illnesses. Others were ill. Addiction to alcohol and other drugs affected some. Many worked at minimum wage jobs. What struck many volunteers was the humanity of homeless people – that in sharing a meal, a quiet game, or a late night conversation – we could no longer think of them as “the homeless” but rather, as individuals with hopes and demons. Homeless people are our neighbors. We cannot turn away having looked them in the eyes. It is not right that in this richly blessed community that we live in, that churches must open their doors in the winters to prevent our neighbors from freezing to death.
The 2006 annual count of homeless persons in Fairfax County estimates that 2077 men, women and children are homeless on any night. About 45% are chronically homeless. During the week that UUCF hosted the hypothermia project, we were able to call upon some of the support services that serve people who are homeless. The police, detox workers and mental health counselors from the County, and staff from the interfaith organization FACETS gave us critical back-up, guidance, support when we encountered problems that we were not able to handle on our own. There are good people and good programs working throughout the County to address problems of low-income housing and homelessness. Still, these efforts are not enough.
According to the US Census, in 2003, there are more than 10,000 individuals/households that earn less than $10,000 annually. Rent for an efficiency or one bedroom apartment in Fairfax County is $915 and $1,045 per month, respectively. In other words, rent would consume every dollar that a person working full time at minimum wage could earn. About half of all Fairfax County employees cannot afford to live in the County. These are our beginning teachers, police officers and county services clerks. When people with mental illnesses who are poor are discharged from psychiatric hospitals, when people who are chronically inebriated and have no jobs are let go from jail or detox, there is a frayed safety net. This winter, we and 16 other churches, synagogues and temples in central Fairfax found the only safety net was our hypothermia project shelters. On Apr. 1, that safety net goes away. The churches will close the hypothermia shelter – but the problem of chronic homelessness in the county will not go away. Guests during UUCF’s week hosting the shelter, as well as volunteers, strongly encouraged UUCF to host the hypothermia project next year. At the same time, many of the guests and volunteers felt that a church volunteer program was a weak and temporary patch over a much greater problem that needs to be resolved: the lack of sufficient affordable housing and homeless residential programs in the county.
Twenty years ago, UUCF was at the forefront of interfaith efforts to solve homelessness in Fairfax County. We opened our church through two winters for a homelessness program that we shared with churches and synagogues throughout central Fairfax. Through the efforts of many members of UUCF, we built the community support that led the county to construct the Embry Rucker Shelter for homeless families and adults in Reston. Our church led an interfaith soup kitchen to feed hungry, homeless families that became Our Daily Bread. Many members of UUCF have been involved over the past 20 years, and continue be involved in sustaining these and other affordable housing and homelessness programs. Again this winter, the needs of homeless people in our county called for compassion and action by our religious communities.
For many years, housing advocates and service providers have shared a strong belief that the small efficiency apartments, sometimes called SROs or single resident occupancy programs would help prevent the kind of crisis homelessness that UUCF and the other churches faced in our hypothermia project guests. In 2005, the Fairfax County SRO Task Force recommended rapid development of SRO s with social, medical and housing supports as a viable solution to chronic homelessness in the County. The Task Force specifically recommended:
All community and faith-based organizations to support SRO development for the benefit of their neighbors in the community through active participation at public hearings and support for projects once they become site specific.
We feel that UUCF as a congregation, its ministers, and its members are a powerful force for justice and compassion. We wish to commit to ending homelessness in our county, and to extend our successes in the county to help others to end homelessness in our region and our country.