With the holidays approaching, it's a great time to shine a spotlight on the many kind and giving members of our Rosslyn community. In this series, Rosslyn Cares, we feature stories from our neighborhood that remind us of the importance of taking care of others and being thankful for what we have.
When Rosslyn BID Ambassador Clifton Chaney walks the streets of Rosslyn on a sunny October afternoon, the first thing you notice is that this man has presence. He walks tall, with his head up, and he smiles, greets people, and looks them in the eye. He is well-suited to his job, which requires him to help make people feel welcome here.
In August 2018, Mr. Chaney took on an additional role as the Rosslyn BID's outreach specialist. Every Tuesday he makes his rounds, seeking out the neighborhood's most vulnerable people, who in some cases are living on the street. He takes care of them by talking with them and asking how they're doing, providing gift cards so they can get something to eat, or administering first aid if they have a minor injury. His main goal is to connect them to A-SPAN, Arlington's homeless services organization that will provide them with medical care, shelter, meals, housing and a stable job if they are able to work. He typically speaks with 10-12 individuals per week.
Mr. Chaney has found many of the people he meets on the street to be extremely cautious when he first approaches them. If he's going to get them into supportive services, he knows he must first gain their trust.
"Many have been abused and shamed, so they aren't really open and forthcoming," he says.
Mr. Chaney knows a lot about helping those less fortunate: He's been doing this sort of work for years. Among other roles, in 1988 he was part of a team that opened a homeless shelter in Washington, D.C. Later, he worked for the Coalition for the Homeless at that same shelter. In 2004, he worked for Volunteers of America's Addictions and Drug Treatment Program. In these jobs, the people he served had chosen to be there, so they already knew they needed help. Meeting up with people on the streets in Rosslyn is different.
"People don't have to talk to me when I approach them," he says. "Some of them kind of look at me like, 'Ok, why do you want to know my name?' Many have underlying problems, such as mental health issues, drinking or drug use. That's going to take precedence over everything, including buying food and paying rent. Gaining their trust is a process, and it takes time."
Mr. Chaney learns the stories of many of the people he meets. For instance, he got to know a man who had been sleeping in a tent in the woods near Rosslyn for a long time. The man was initially surprised that Mr. Chaney talked to him because he said people didn't typically say hello or ask how he was doing. Mr. Chaney found out the man had six daughters.
As he built a relationship with the man, Mr. Chaney began trying to convince him to seek help.
"Winter's coming," he said. "Where will you sleep? You can't invite your daughters to visit you in a tent. Are you ready to change what you're doing?"
After many encounters, finally, one day, the man was ready. Mr. Chaney drove him to A-SPAN's Homeless Services Center. The first of its kind in the D.C. area, it's a place where clients can obtain an array of supportive services under one roof. It's an embodiment of Arlington County's values and its commitment to helping our most vulnerable citizens. The team at A-SPAN welcomed the man, provided him shelter, and assigned him a case manager who is helping him get his Social Security card and obtain housing.
“A-SPAN is grateful to the Rosslyn BID for their 15-year partnership in helping some of Arlington's most vulnerable people gain access to the life-sustaining services we provide," says A-SPAN President/CEO Kathleen Sibert.
Mr. Chaney says he appreciates the Rosslyn BID for enabling him to do this work.
"It makes me feel good that the Rosslyn BID cares about the people here, whether they're living in Turnberry Tower or sleeping on the stairs at Metro," he says. "They know it's important to be kind."
So what advice would he give to Rosslyn residents and workers if they encounter vulnerable people on the street?
"Just give them a smile," he says. "Say good morning or hello and don't treat people like they're invisible."