Bulova: Poverty and the High Cost of Housing in Fairfax County

Why 50 percent of the county’s approximately 1,500 homeless people have jobs but live in the woods, shelters or cars.

Residents of Fairfax County who make minimum wage could work 24 hours a day, seven days a week and still couldn’t afford to live in a one bedroom apartment due to high housing prices, said the chairman of the county’s Board of Supervisors on Thursday.

That may be why 50 percent of the county’s approximately 1,500 homeless people have jobs but live in the woods, shelters or cars, said Sharon Bulova, speaking at a panel on poverty held at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria. Fairfax County has a population of 1.1 million with 60,000 people classified as living in poverty.

“They don’t make enough money to keep a roof over their heads,” she said. “Housing is expensive.”

She said the county works closely with its school system to ensure that students who live at the poverty level have a roof and food. Children have become the poorest age group in the country and it’s usually those who are being raised by single mothers who are the poorest, according to poverty experts who also spoke on the panel.

Other panelists were Dolores Huerta, co-founder of United Farm Workers, and Peter Edelman, co-founder of the Children's Defense Fund. Panelists were interviewed by public television talk show host Tavis Smiley and author and educator Cornel West as part of Smiley and West's "Poverty Tour" to eight states.

“We are committed to ending homelessness as we know it,” Bulova said.

She recalled moving into a new neighborhood, going out for a run and stumbling across a homeless camp with three members that was “one mile from my new home. This was my neighbor and I needed to care about that.”

The county, which had a median household income of over $100,000 in 2009, now has an office specifically charged with preventing homelessness, she said. In 2009, Virginia had a median income of $59,330 and the United States, $50,221.

She added that the county’s faith community has been instrumental in raising awareness about the region’s homelessness issue. Churches, mosques and synagogues recently all participated in an organized anti-hypothermia program, raising awareness among their members.

In turn, it became a personal issue to those members who then “turned to the Fairfax government and said we want to address this” as a community, Bulova said.

“An impediment to our progress would be denial,” she said. “We have to acknowledge we have pockets of poverty.”


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