Homeless shelter still divides Arlington residents, officials

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Local,Virginia,Taylor Holland

An 11-month battle between Arlington residents and government officials over plans for a year-round homeless shelter will likely climax on Saturday, when the Arlington County Board is expected to approve the project despite residents’ concerns for their safety.

Officials announced in December their intentions to purchase the $27 million Thomas Building, a seven-story complex located at 2020 14th St. North near the Court House Metro station, to house government offices and an 80-bed homeless shelter. Since then, some residents have mounted protests and pleaded with the board to look elsewhere.

Kenneth Robinson, president of the neighboring Woodbury Heights Condominium Association, said residents are concerned about violence and crime that might accompany the shelter. They have been selling their condos at nearly double the usual pace to avoid the shelter.

“The County Board has shown that caring deeply about the homeless is far more important than the concerns of the 300 people who live here,” Robinson said. 

Although he doesn’t disapprove of the shelter itself, Robinson said he hopes the county will prevent registered sex offenders and people who’ve been convicted of violent crimes from staying there.

He also wants to require the shelter to hire its own security guards because “you’ve got to have somebody to call the police” if something happens.

But in the 20 years that the county’s existing shelter — which sits only one block from the proposed new location — has been in operation, officials say there has not been a single violent crime.

“They’ve lived with us in the neighborhood for 20 years,” said Kathleen Sibert, executive director of the current shelter. “There haven’t been any incidents.”

If the County Board approves the shelter, it will occupy the first two floors of the seven-story building. In addition to housing as many as 80 people during the winter, and 50 year-round, Sibert said the facility will offer counseling programs to “help speed up the process” of finding permanent housing for those who need it.

The acquisition of the new building is also viewed as “a necessary step for the county,” said County Board Chairwoman Mary Hynes, citing Arlington’s need for more space. 

The County Board meeting will begin at 8:30 a.m. at the county government complex, 2100 Clarendon Blvd.

tholland@washingtonexaminer.com

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