Saturday, September 04, 2010

It's Not Illegal to be Homeless in Loudoun

So, what happens when a child comes up and says something like "there's a huge bow and arrow in the woods over there, where we've seen a teenage girl living for a few weeks"? This local event happened recently in South Riding, and proved to be a revealing set of "lessons learned" - plus an example of how a mature community association can spring into action.

After this "by the way" remark, and a subsequent parent's inspection of the wooded area about 20 yards away from driveways, yards and houses where about 30 young children routinely play - sure enough, a serious compound hunting bow with several medieval-calibre metal-tipped arrows were found, along with a deflated blow-up mattress, backpack, food refuse and other "camping" litter. The mattress was deflated, evidently the target of thrust-and-parry training exercises wrought on it by, after further local questioning, some of the pack of little boys (i.e. the "real" community watch patrol) who had discovered the site 2 weeks earlier.

Further cursory inspection revealed some business cards, with local housing, moving and "family and adolescent counseling" service providers...not the kind of thing you like to see associated with the owner of suburban hunting equipment, right?

The first round of local Dulles South Public Safety Center Sheriff response was prompt, but ended a bit unsatisfactory - along with the comments (paraphrased) that "it's not illegal to be homeless in Loudoun", and "owning hunting equipment isn't illegal", "I can't take the bow, it's simply discarded property", and "I guess I could write down some numbers from the cards, and make a few calls" (after some prompting).

The unfolding story and evidence seemed to clearly point to a young person in trouble, a family in need, a potentially escalating danger to the community, an immediate danger to little kids, and all kinds of community property violations...but the initial law enforcement response was fairly tepid, though probably, technically, accurate (and perhaps correct in terms of relativity to other County or Homeland Security concerns?). Enter the South Riding Proprietary.

They came quickly, complete with clean-up crew and a full, new compliment of Sheriff department representatives - intent on actually making a report, securing the dangerous items, and following through with further investigation. As the Proprietary Manager put it, "we've got a great relationship with the Sheriff's department, and this isn't usually how things are handled - plus we're very concerned about the potential adolescent involved..." Unlike the first encounter, this second was much more consistent with community and parental expectations and pure reason, and hopefully will result in the help somebody needs.

For any of the families involved in the situation, it's comforting to know a community-run and funded organization is ready to help.

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