As temperatures dropped throughout last week, most people were able to count on a roof over their head and some form of heat to get them through the week and beyond.
For the homeless in Fairfax County, such basic necessities are never a given, and the choice to sleep in a car or outdoors can be a fatal one on winter nights with temperatures in the single digits.
Which is why FACETS, a Fairfax-based nonprofit dedicated to combating poverty since 1988, developed their
Hypothermia Prevention and Response Program in 2003. Since then, 34 faith communities in the area help shelter the homeless every winter.
The program starts in mid-November every year and runs through March. It is one of five such programs in the county, which operates in partnership with Fairfax County.
Last year FACETS sheltered 244 individuals through the program, and approximately half of those individuals participated in case management services. This resulted in 10 such individuals being able to secure housing.
St. John Neumann Catholic Church hosted the shelter last week. In addition to the approximately 35 clients they normally serve on a regular basis, they housed another 35 from Bailey's Crossroads Community Shelter, which is run by Volunteers of America.
As many as 77 guests were at the shelter at one time, and as many as 100 meals were prepared at night.
In addition to the groups that have their signature meals (St. John Neumann always prepares Mexican food on their night), clients dined on donated casseroles for lunch and dinner.
At St. John Neumann, various other faith groups come in each night to make dinner and provide entertainment and other services. St. Mark Catholic Church in Vienna, St. Thomas a Beckett Catholic Church in Reston and Congregation Beth Emeth in Herndon
Entertainment ranges from Bingo (where every player will win a gift card) to the Centreville-based Bank Street Band, to a visit from local service dogs.
Volunteers also bring sewing machines to mend clients' clothing, perform services like foot baths and also operate a shopping room where clients can pick out jackets, socks, underwear and other items.
A sophomore at South Lakes High School even donated blankets she made for her International Baccalaureate project.
"Our goal here is simply to save lives, we're not here to pass judgements or change habits, just to put a roof over someone's head that might not otherwise have one," said Patty Holley, one of the coordinators of the shelter for St. John Neumann.
The shelter normally operates from evening until the next morning, which guests arriving after dark via car, bicycle, on foot, or transported via a FACETS shuttle. The following morning, they can get rides to various places to stay during the day before returning the next night.
However, due to last week's frigid temperatures, the shelter opened at 2 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 21 and remained open all day Wednesday, Jan. 22.
"We didn't feel in good conscience that we could push people out the door with the weather conditions the way they were," said Dister, who helps coordinate the shelter at St. John Neumann.
More information on FACETS can be found
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