In 2008, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors adopted a “Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness in the Fairfax-Falls Church Community.” The plan and its implementation had been in talks for a little over year, and it was finally set into motion in March of 2008. The main goal of the plan is that by 2016, every person in the community will access and maintain decent, safe, and affordable housing. The plan is about 26 pages long, but still manages to provide a fairly accurate overview of the homelessness and housing situation as well as a detailed strategy to solve this problem. The plan overall is presented logically and easy to follow, with an important and valuable apparent focus on inclusion, collaboration, and community input.
The plan starts off with a list of values that explain both the reasons for needing the plan, as well as the way in which it was developed, with a particular focus on diversity and inclusion. Next, the plan discusses the history of collaboration between community and local government, with funds from private foundations (as was the case with STICC donors in New Orleans), in previous handling of homelessness in the area, all of which led to written strategies that were presented to the community in 2006. Next is a list of people on the planning committee, a mix of government and non-profit employees, community members, someone from a housing and development corporation, and one representative of Freddie Mac, one of the foundations helping with funds. Next, there are several pages dedicated to the state and demographics of homelessness in the area at the time the plan was written, in 2006, with the total homeless population adding up to 2,077 individuals.
Following the demographic breakdown was an overview of the then available shelters and housing for the homeless population, including the very limited transitional and permanent housing available, making it clear that the needs of the population were not being met. The next section of the plan focuses on the challenges in providing affordable housing, with a focus on prices in the area rising faster than wages, and especially those of low-income workers. These topics take up just under the first half of the plan, and establish homelessness and unavailability of affordable housing as a serious housing in the Falls Church area. The next chapter then focuses on the end goals of the plan, with a housing first approach that focuses on first providing housing in order to transition people out of homelessness; therefore establishing affordable housing as the main goal of the plan, as it is beneficial both morally and fiscally.
The next chapter of the plan then focuses on the details of the steps needed to carry out the plan. In it, four key strategies are put forward:
- “Strategy #1: Prevent homelessness due to economic crisis and/or disability.
- Strategy #2: Preserve and increase the supply of affordable housing to prevent or remedy homelessness.
- Strategy #3: Deliver appropriate support services to obtain and maintain stable housing.
- Strategy #4: Create a management system for plan implementation with the collaboration of the public and private sectors that ensures adequate financial resources and accountability.” (Community Plan, 2006)
The plan goes on to describe these strategies in detail, before finally finishing up with a few logistics, including a discussion of cost, of gaining support and resources from politicians and community members, and a final call to action reiterating the need for the plan.
This plan has a lot of strong points. For one, it goes into great detail on each strategic point, detailing what’s to be done in certain situations to both prevent and deal with homelessness, rather than leaving the strategy in vague, often unachievable, terms. One especially strong point too, is the plan’s inclusion of the importance of educating the community on the issue of homelessness, both to inform those in need, as well as to ensure support from the community itself.
Furthermore, the plan’s focus on collaboration of community, non-profit, and governmental organizations is one that not only allows input from all relevant parties, but one that is proven to work for other issues in Fairfax County. This collaboration, as well as the direct involvement of community members in both the creation of the plan itself as well as its implementation, helps avoid the problems faced by communities dealing with non-profits in Arena’s book. In the examples provided by Arena, non-profits tended to decide what needed to be done, while in collaboration with private foundations, without really consulting with the community itself. From this plan, however, community members appear to have a say, and the clear main focus of the plan is ending homelessness, wherein fiscal benefits are secondary, and generally gained by the county itself rather than outside parties. The main potential flaw in this plan, unfortunately, is one that it seems would be difficult to avoid, given the limited resources and budget provided by the government. This therein is the funding provided by private foundations such as Freddie Mac, as well as their inclusion on the planning committee (Arena, 85).
This situation provides some room for issues that were brought up by Arena, with private foundations using their funds to control public projects in their favor. However, this does not mean this is automatically the case, as the foundations could merely be providing funds and backing off. This plan, however, fails to clarify their role in the plan, and indeed does not much mention where funding will come from overall, though it does project long-term savings as a result of following the plan. Overall, the Fairfax- Falls Church Community Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness is a fairly solid plan, with strengths of collaboration and inclusion that appear to outweigh its potential flaws, and, if implemented correctly, should serve to work fairly well, provided the facts within the plan are accurate.
- Arena, John. Driven from New Orleans How Nonprofits Betray Public Housing and Promote Privatization. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota, 2012. Print.