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Arlington advances plans for disputed homeless shelter

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The Arlington County Board voted unanimously Tuesday night to purchase a building near Courthouse Metro that it would use as a homeless shelter despite an outpouring of opposition from neighbors who say the shelter could undermine property values and neighborhood safety.

County officials want to use building at 2020 14th St. N. for local government offices and a new 24-hour homeless shelter that would replace the county's existing winter shelter just a few blocks away. Board members said the shelter is needed to get the homeless off the streets and into permanent housing.

"We must expand our efforts to solve this growing problem of homelessness," said Terrance Toussaint, the director of Arlington's current winter shelter. "This shelter is one step of many toward solving this issue."

The shelter is envisioned as a center where the homeless can come to learn about job and housing opportunities.

The board authorized county staff to begin the extensive purchasing process Tuesday night. If the county can't agree with the building's owner on a price, county officials said they could use the eminent domain process -- the practice of seizing private property for public use -- to acquire it.

But residents of the apartment buildings near the proposed shelter say they're adamantly opposed to having a homeless shelter so close to their own homes. They claim registered sex offenders are now staying at homeless shelters and that the apartment buildings in the area will be forced to upgrade security as a precaution.

"[The county] really is casual in its disregard of massive investments," said Woodbury Heights Condominium Association President Ken Robinson, referring to the million-dollar apartment buildings around the proposed shelter.

County officials have said they don't foresee any safety issues with the shelter, and that shelters are often integrated smoothly into communities. The new shelter site, county spokeswoman Mary Curtius said, is moving just a few blocks from its current location.

"Two things: We're moving it 200 yards, so they're there right now. And they're being moved directly across the street from a police station," Curtius said.

Robinson says he and other residents aren't against helping the homeless, but are concerned about the shelter's location.

"It's always written in terms of NIMBY [Not In My Backyard] or whatever," he said. "But we've been collecting food, furniture, clothing and money for the homeless since 1987. So we don't need to be lectured on our humanity."

awhelan@washingtonexaminer.com

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