What began life three decades ago as the Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network, or A-SPAN, has assumed a new identity: PathForward.
“We developed this new brand with deep respect for our past and humble beginnings while looking ahead to an exciting future. The name truly captures what we do – we move people towards a path to stability,” Betsy Frantz, the organization’s president and CEO, said after the name was announced.
Why the change, and why now?
“We came to the conclusion that we needed a new name to match all that we do,” the organization’s board chair, Tim Denning, said. “Throughout 2020, the board revised the mission, vision and values in order to better reflect the breadth of services we provide, the role we play in our community and our continuing efforts to be a leader.”
(The organization’s new Website is www.pathforwardva.org.)
What would evolve into A-SPAN (and now into PathForward) began in the late 1980s when Arlington residents Lora Rinker and Pam Juhl saw the need to provide assistance to the often unseen ranks of Arlington’s homeless. Rinker and Juhl began bringing them food.
It was “a simple act, a logical thing to do if you know someone is hungry,” Rinker said in a 2007 celebration of her efforts. (She later would go on to serve a lengthy stint as the orgaization’s first executive director.)
A-SPAN evolved into a formal social-safety-net operation in the early 1990s, providing an emergency winter shelter and host of other services to those facing homelessness. Today, in partnership with the Arlington County government, the organization provides year-round sleeping facilities for up to 80 people per night, depending on the season, and a wide range of health and other support services.
“Since our founding in 1992, PathForward has grown from a grass-roots nonprofit that served people in need on the streets to an organization that provides a full continuum of services that helps clients wherever they are on their path to stability,” Denning said.
The organization embraces a “housing-first” philosophy, helping individuals get into permanent housing without preconditions or barriers like sobriety requirements or service agreements. Case managers provide clients ongoing support, linking them to community resources to help them rebuild their lives and retain housing. PathForward’s Permanent Supportive Housing program then works to prevent a return to the streets by assisting clients with daily challenges, financial literacy training and assistance with budgeting.
The organization says its supportive-housing efforts boast a 95-percent retention rate.
The number of individuals counted as homeless across Arlington the years was down 14 percent from 2020 and has declined by 26 percent since 2017, according to updated figures reported in May by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG).
A total of 171 individuals were counted as homeless – either in shelters or living on the street – in the annual “Point in Time” survey conducted earlier in the year. That compared to 199 in 2020 and 232 in 2017, part of a regionwide decline as more efforts have been put in place to address factors leading to homelessness.
Across the Washington region, the homeless count of 8,304 in 2021 was down 16 percent from 9,763 a year before and down 25 percent from the 11,128 reported in 2017. Although it has seen a decline similar to those in the suburbs, the District of Columbia continues to account for more than 60 percent of the region’s homeless count.
Across the region, all jurisdictions saw declines in homelessness from 2017 to 2021 except Fairfax County (up 27 percent to 1,222) and Prince George’s County (essentially unchanged at 537), according to COG data.