Fairfax County

Ending Homelessness in Fairfax County

How Fairfax County crafted a new strategic plan for tackling homelessness by the end of 2018
“We need to start thinking as a region and learning about what is happening around us in Northern Virginia, DC,and Maryland.”
– OPEH Member
Both Fairfax County and Washington D.C. saw an uptick in homelessness between 2018 and 2019.
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The Challenge.

The Office of Preventing and Ending Homelessness for Fairfax County (OPEH) enlisted OPX to assist them in updating the Implementation Plan for delivering on their 10 Year Community Plan. Created in 2008 by Fairfax and Falls Church cities,non-profit groups, businesses, and schools, the Community Plan serves as a strategic framework to prevent and end homelessness by December 2018. The Implementation Plan provides a blueprint for successfully delivering on the vision and goals outlined in the Community Plan.

While OPEH efforts have led to a nearly 50% decrease in the homeless population, they recognized new realities and issues that needed to be addressed in order to successfully eradicate homelessness. To this end, OPEH engaged OPX in late summer of 2017 to facilitate a series of design thinking sessions where the Implementation Plan would be re-evaluated and amended to ensure its efficacy moving forward.

In addition to the tactic categories, the Board identified seven new guiding principles that would serve as a constant reminder of their values throughout all efforts to end homelessness.
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The Process.

This first session revealed OPEH needed to re-evaluate the Implementation Plan, due to the difficult task of defining and prioritizing factors that play into preventing and ending homelessness.From favorable government policies and effective workforce training, to reliable funding and widespread community support – the effort to tackle homelessness requires many more considerations than securing enough affordable housing. The original Implementation Plan did not place enough importance on these additional factors, causing setbacks for delivering on the housing goal. While OPEH agreed housing is still a key tactic, they identified five other critical areas in this session: business engagement, Fairfax County policies, employment,transportation, and advocacy.

The second session unpacked the six tactic categories and defined additional “sub-tactics”. This exercise served as a valuable step in the process, allowing OPEH to identify important,actionable steps needed to achieve the ideal outcome for each tactic. The conversations uncovered how dependent all of the tactics are on one another.

For example, to successfully deliver on employment, OPEH understands the current workforce development programs require improvement. They also recognized, however, that without support from local businesses and other private and public groups, placing homeless people in jobs would be a challenge.Additionally, without successful advocacy and community backing, local businesses would be less likely to get involved.

Housing relies heavily on business engagement and advocacy, as well. Engaging business and community leaders can be an effective method for garnering enough funding and land to acquire and/or build affordable housing in the area.

30% of all persons who were homeless in Fairfax County in 2018 were children under the age of 18.
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The Impact.

With all six tactics deemed essential to ending homelessness, and each one of seemingly equal importance, decision-making could become next-to-impossible. Therefore,the third and final session asked the big question: How do decisions get made? At this point in the process, OPX introduced their option generation matrix, which prompted OPEH to identify 8 decision criteria that would be used to prioritize the tactics. With these criteria, OPEH identified housing as the most important tactic, closely followed by advocacy and business engagement, then employment, government policies, and transportation.

This prioritized list also clarified the next step in the effort: creating task force teams for each tactic. With individual groups devoted to one tactic, as well as an understanding the importance of collaboration among efforts and teams, the Board is now confident there will be greater progress at every level. If they can achieve their goal to end homelessness by the end of 2018, OPEH hopes to then work with the entire DC-VA-MD region and become a model for other metropolitan areas.

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