Clarification Feb. 15, 2013, 6:30p.m.: The FOIA request referenced in this story was submitted to the county in January 2012. An editorial mistake posted the wrong year originally. --Editor.
With only one month until the Arlington County Board meets to approve or deny a use permit to turn the recently acquired building at 2020 N. 14th St. into a permanent homeless shelter, police crime reports related to the existing shelter have residents concerned for their safety, and county staff says they are considering security measures.
The current Emergency Winter Shelter at 2049 N. 15th St. is open during hypothermia season from Nov. 1 through March 31. It is “low barrier” meaning tenants do not have to abstain from using alcohol or other drugs when not in the shelter, and there are few requirements to get a bed for the night.
The proposed permanent shelter, which would be known as the Homeless Services Center, would also be low barrier.
Neighborhood residents, especially those in the Woodbury Heights Condominium next door have complained since November 2011 about the move and about how they said the county surprised the community with the purchase. Security is a major concern for them.
While the county has not made a decision about what security would be at the Homeless Services Center, Deputy County Manager Marsha Allgeier said that the current location about a block away on N. 15th Street has no security system at all. She and others with the county have maintained that no violent attacks have occurred there.
“But just because there has been all this concern [in the neighborhood] we are considering security options to try to ameliorate some of those concerns,” she said.
County staff is trying to determine the right level of security. Allgeier wondered aloud if the need was most acute at certain times such as night or rush hour, and could the center’s staff handle security, or does it require a person in uniform?
“Just throwing in a 24-hour guard because someone says we should isn’t enough.”
“Part of our report will conclude what will be appropriate for security,” Allgeier said.
The County is reviewing the use permit for the building to make sure the planned use is appropriate. Staff will make a recommendation by March 8. The board will decide whether or not to approve the use permit at its March 16 meeting.
“These are not displaced families. These are people who are not allowed in other shelters,” said January Holt, a resident of Woodbury Heights who has spoken often about this issue. “The county could put most of the residents at ease by requiring a 24-hour physical professionally trained guard …[But] we have been told that…a volunteer or A-SPAN staff would be monitoring the cameras. I am sorry, but I do not believe the safety of the surrounding residents should be left up to a volunteer or rookie. What are they going to do when something happens? I would hate to find out.”