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Arlington County Board approves year-round homeless shelter

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The battle by some Arlington residents to keep the homeless from becoming their neighbors ended in defeat.

Over the weekend, the Arlington County Board unanimously approved a year-round shelter in the Courthouse neighborhood.

The decision comes after almost a year of protest.

But what not everyone realizes is Arlington has an emergency shelter operating right now about two blocks away from the one that's just been approved. The shelter is moving into the new building so it can operate year-round.

"I do not want the situation where some person is bopped over the head, some woman is assaulted, some child is hurt," resident Kenneth Robinson said.

Robinson never worried about crime outside his front door until now. He moved to Woodbury Heights in 1985 and is currently the condo association president. About 35 feet separate his Courthouse condo from the steps of what will become Arlington's new homeless services center.

"We're going to have to make a number of changes in the building to further secure the building," he explained.

The condo association is adding more video cameras and increasing street lighting. But some residents say before the homeless move in, they're moving out. Twenty-two condos sold in 2012 - that's twice as many as the year before.

Jesse Swart, a Woodbury Heights Condo resident, said, "Several of my neighbors have already left and in good conscience, I can't imagine having a family 30 feet from a facility that's going to have a rotating stock of Arlington County's violent offenders and/or sexual offenders."

Maria Noboa, who works in the area, added, "It changes the dynamic of the area, in terms of how safe you feel."

Kathleen Sibert is the executive director of Arlington Street People's Assistance Network or A-SPAN. She says in the shelter's 20 year history in Courthouse, no one in the community has been hurt by anyone staying there. 

"We have always been a good neighbor wherever we are, and we're only moving a block and a half," Sibert said.

The new shelter will also have new safety features approved by the county board.

Sibert explained, "We will have a security guard from 4 in the afternoon until midnight so that the residents there feel safe when they're coming home from work or when they're going out at night."

The shelter will house a male and female dormitory, with 50 permanent beds, five medical respite beds and an extra 25 beds during the winter.

Employment, housing and mental health services will also be on-site to help the homeless rebound.

The Homeless Services Center is expected to open in the fall of 2014.

Before that, a seven-foot wall will go up between the neighboring condo building and the shelter. The county board will also conduct a six-month review of the shelter to address any concerns.

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