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Fredericksburg EDA Takes Lead On Homelessness

The EDA Has Introduced A Three-Pronged Approach To Tackle The "Crisis"
The Fredericksburg EDA meets monthly at 601 Caroline Street in downtown Fredericksburg, Virginia.

The Fredericksburg Economic Development Authority has taken the lead in proposing a solution to the ongoing homeless crisis in downtown Fredericksburg.

In a letter to the Fredericksburg City Council earlier this month, the EDA Chair Beth Black identifies this summer as particularly challenging, with the situation in the historic district seemingly reaching a ”critical” stage. For months, business owners have voiced concerns about a myriad of issues, from customer safety to disturbances and drug use. The seven member committee has developed a three-pronged approach to address the growing impact downtown’s homeless have on its businesses, visitors and residents.

The EDA would begin by renting “as many rooms as possible, for as long as possible, in a nearby motel” within a month. This would be followed by “transitional housing,” where a motel, apartment building or other location would be purchased to house unsheltered individuals for longer periods of time. It’s an approach that would seem to duplicate the model set by Micah Ecumenical Ministry’s Hesed House. That 14 room facility opened last September on Augustine Avenue near the University of Mary Washington and is now fully occupied.

The EDA’s letter’s third prong is permanent housing at Micah’s Jeremiah Community, which plans for 189 total units for area unsheltered on 10 acres behind the Family Life Center in the Bragg Hill neighborhood. That project is slated to head before the Planning Commission on July 10th for a public hearing.

In addition to the above outlined approach, the EDA is also requesting to be transferred $2 million in (American Rescue Plan Act) ARPA funds that have been allocated to city homelessness to “optimize interest income” from those funds. Black explained to the city council at its most recent work session why that transfer was necessary.

“We’re not saying we’re going to go out and spend those funds. You’re not making any money on that money. We can grow those funds in a way that you can’t,” Black said.

While much is still under consideration, Black says that one idea would be to place those funds in an account earning higher rates, using the interest income help the community’s unsheltered.

It’s not clear why the funds haven’t been used already.

The money has been available since September of 2021, when the city initially allocated $2 million towards ARPA homeless initiatives from the nearly $11 million it obtained through the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF) program. The Fredericksburg City Council voted to “re-obligate” those funds to a number of public improvement projects in May of last year, including the city’s wastewater treatment plant upgrade, asphalt repair program and the relocation of the new tourism office.

The $2 million for Fredericksburg’s homeless didn’t disappear.

It was moved from the city’s General Fund to accomodate pandemic spending deadlines for its other projects. But beyond that common-sense accounting maneuver, the money would appear to sit in a low interest-bearing account. According to a city memo from last May’s resolution, SLFRF funds must be spend before December 31, 2026.

Fredericksburg Budget Manager Donna Leahy couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

In addition to the interest income from the $2 million in ARPA homeless funds, the EDA is asking the city to commit matching funds for its efforts to immediately house unsheltered individuals. That may cost the EDA “tens of thousands dollars,” according to Black, and there’s still no guarantee that those homeless would remain in city-provided shelter.

“Through our conversations with community stakeholders who we consider experts in dealing with the area’s homeless community, we learned that we could spend all of that money but many unhoused members of the community would be back on the streets before the cold weather shelters opened for the season,” explains Black.

“We need help. That’s why we’re asking to be part of this collaborative effort.”

Black has already had “off-the-record” conversations with representatives of Stafford County, who Beth feels is a viable partner for tackling the homeless crisis going forward. Those talks will continue, as the EDA plans to convene a working group of area stakeholders that includes small business owners, non-profit organizations who specialize in homelessness, Fredericksburg Main Street, the George Washington Regional Commission’s Regional Housing Assembly and Virginia Supportive Housing.

“This is not new for us – being advocates for our businesses and our community is what we do.”

The Fredericksburg region’s homeless population hovers around 200 individuals at any given time. Of that number, approximately 30% are under 18 and more than half are African American. More than 1 in 5 identified their last address as the city of Fredericksburg.

This year’s Point-In-Time count, an unseasonably warm night in January, yielded 14 individuals living unsheltered.

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