Loudoun’s Department of Family Services will ask the Board of Supervisors to fill a gap in caring for at-risk children when it seeks to convert one of its youth shelters to a group home.
The newer of the county’s two youth shelters could be headed for change. On July 5, the DFS will ask supervisors to consider converting that shelter into a longer-term 12-bed youth group home.
“The issue is that the majority of kids that we’re seeing need something bigger or more intensive,” said Department of Family Services Deputy Director Hope Stonerook. “A shelter is about crisis intervention. Whatever the crisis is, you’re trying to resolve the crisis and then move on to step B.”
Children can stay in the youth shelter for no more than 90 days, but Loudoun doesn’t have any options right now for at-risk youth who need a place to stay for longer than that. The residents are between 12 and 18 years old. Currently, DFS sends those children to places like Richmond or Charlottesville. This disrupts the children’s education and connections to friends and family.
“It’s really difficult for families to do the family component when their families are a couple hours away,” Stonerook said. “That’s really the push behind this.”
Instead, DFS administrators say, at-risk youth in Loudoun only have two options locally: The youth shelter or the juvenile detention center.
The conversion, if approved, is not expected to require any local tax funding. A group home would be eligible for additional funding sources such from the state’s Comprehensive Services Act, Medicaid and private insurance, according to a staff report. The building would need to be re-licensed for the new use under the Virginia Department of Social services.
The other shelter, across a parking lot from the new shelter in the county’s government service center complex south of Leesburg, is getting a $1.4 million makeover.
The older of the county’s two shelters has remained largely unchanged since 1989, when it was opened under the county Department of Youth and Family Services—which hasn’t existed since a county government reorganization in 1997. Since then, shelter operations have been contracted out. Currently, the county contracts with a nonprofit, the North American Family Institute.
The shelter will get a complete interior renovation.
“The renovation is about bringing the building up to standards and code and making it more energy efficient,” Stonerook said.
Work has already begun. The county has removed all records from the building, as well air conditioning units, electronics, and anything else the shelter can still use. According to county documents, the building will get new exterior siding and trim, new windows and doors, new plumbing and light fixtures, HVAC, and Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant bathrooms.
The interior drywall will be replaced with impact-resistant drywall, and some of the shelter’s distinguishing features will go away—a fire place and sunken living area that don’t meet safety or ADA standards. The entrance area will also be taken out and redesigned with mirrored glass and a lobby area.
The county’s newer youth shelter won a Signatures of Loudoun Pace Setters award when it opened in 2012.
“Most of the architecture’s trying to do some kind of architecture that would reflect the rest of the campus over there, which is pretty cool,” said project manager Sandy Hunter, noting that the newer youth shelter and shared kitchen building are also LEED Gold certified.
In the meantime, the county’s newer youth shelter is double-bunked to make up for missing bed space.
“The stay at the youth shelter is very short,” Stonerook said. With the youth shelter’s short stays generally and lower numbers in the summer, Stonewell said she doesn’t anticipate any problems: “Just looking at the history of the capacity of the building, I think with the 18 beds [in the other youth shelter] we’ll be good.”