After being unable to open in winter 2020 and having a short season in 2019-2020 when they had to close early due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Falls Church Homeless Shelter is back with plans to open next week on December 1 to accommodate unhoused people across the city.
The shelter has operated for almost 30 years after members of the community saw a need and decided to try and make a change. Since then, they have operated almost every winter with help from the City of Falls Church, which provides the building used for overnight housing accommodations on Gordon Road.
The shelter will operate from December 1 (Wednesday) until March 31 of next year with a few changes being put in place in order to keep guests, volunteers and workers as safe as possible as the pandemic continues.
The shelter operates in the winter with the primary goal of preventing hypothermia in the colder months for those who are unhoused. The shelter provides overnight housing for up to 12 guests — 10 men and two women — with separate sleeping and shower facilities.
They provide guests with overnight housing from 6 p.m. until 8 a.m. along with a hot dinner, breakfast in the morning and a bagged lunch to take with them to have during the day while they are not at the shelter.
The Shelter works with New Hope Housing, a Northern Virginia based nonprofit organization with the goal of “finding creative and lasting solutions to end the cycle of homelessness by offering homeless men, women and children the services they need to change their lives and succeed.” They help by providing staff members as well as a case manager to help those staying at the shelter.
After meeting with officials from Fairfax County Health Department, the shelter decided to open its doors again this year with new precautions in place.
“Typically to keep our costs down we have a volunteer help staff the shelter for our evening shift and weekend overnight shifts along with a professional staff member from New Hope Housing. This year we are not relying on volunteers to help staff the shelter,” said Julene Jarnot, Executive Director of the Falls Church Homeless Shelter, who works closely with members of the board, the City of Falls Church and New Hope Housing.
While the shelter will not be using volunteers to staff the building, there are still plenty of ways to get involved and help the shelter out. Sign up lists can be found at fcshelter.org/volunteer/ for grocery givers — someone who shops and provides a weeks worth of groceries, supply providers— someone who provides various other supplies needed for a week, bag lunch providers — someone to make and deliver 12 bagged lunches and holiday dinner providers — someone to provide Christmas and New Years dinners to guests and staff members. More opportunities may become available as the season goes on as well.
Additionally, an Amazon wishlist can be found on the website where needed items can be purchased and shipped directly to the shelter. Due to the pandemic, items such as face masks and hand sanitizer are a need for the shelter. A link to donate money can also be found on their website at fcshelter.org/donate/.
To stay up to date with volunteering opportunities and ways to donate, citizens can join the shelter’s email list located at the bottom of their website.
The shelter will also be participating in Giving Tuesday on November 30, one day before the shelter opens its doors for the season.
Face masks will be required in the shelter for both guests and staff members unless they are eating or sleeping and social distancing will be in effect. Professional cleaning will also take place once a week with cleaning by staff and guests in between.
Staff members and the case manager will all be required to be vaccinated as well. Guests are not required to be fully vaccinated but an effort will be made to help guests receive the vaccine as well as other health concerns.
Guests will go through a screening process upon arrival to check for any signs or symptoms of Covid. Anyone displaying symptoms will be transferred to another facility where they can quarantine and be treated.
For dinners, different community members and organizations work to provide a hot meal once a week including Falls Church Presbyterian, Bethany Ellis, Columbia Baptist Church, Meridian High School’s senior class, St. James Catholic Church, New City Church and Ledo Pizza.
Even when they were unable to open last year, the shelter’s team still worked to do what they could for the community by working with the Fairfax County hypothermia program. They helped to provide meals as that is where their guests would be as well as hosting food and supply drives and the Falls Church Community Service Council and Homestretch.
The shelter serves a variety of people in the community, some who are chronically homeless and others who are just going through a difficult time. Some of the guests have jobs while others do not.
The case manager works with guests on a case by case basis, providing them with whatever services are necessary to them. This can include health services, workforce development and, ultimately, helping them to find a more permanent housing situation.
Aside from housing during the night, showers and food, guests also have access to laundry, lockers and bus passes to use during the day when they cannot be in the shelter.
“[The community] has been wonderful so far and we have a lot of things in place for the season with people helping out,” said Jarnot. “I think financial support will be the thing we need the most help with this year due to added expenses as we are operating a little differently than usual.”
The shelter will open next week and as the needs of guests are assessed, their website will be updated with any other items that are needed and volunteer opportunities as the season progresses.
“We’re incredibly grateful for the community,” concluded Jarnot. “We couldn’t do it without everyone’s support. It’s a real blessing and a great community that really steps up to help when needed.”
The Falls Church Homeless Shelter is located at 217 Gordons Road in Falls Church. To find out more information about donating and volunteering opportunities, please visit their website at fcshelter.org, call 703-854-1400 or email [email protected] You can also “like” their Facebook page to see any updates throughout the season on volunteer opportunities and donation needs, as well as signing up for their email list on their website.