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Local winter homeless shelter called a haven for criminals

Wednesday - 12/4/2013, 1:17pm  ET

WASHINGTON - When temperatures plummet overnight, homeless people need to come in from the cold.

But they'll only go if they feel secure and a shelter in Woodbridge, Va., is under fire for its lack of safety.

Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart is pushing to clean up the homeless shelter that he says is unsafe and has become a haven for criminals.

"Conditions around the shelter have become unsanitary and dangerous," he says in a statement. "The police are concerned about it. We are concerned about it."

Stewart blames Social Services for not properly enforcing rules concerning alcohol and drug use or cross-referencing with the police criminal database.

"As a result, the shelter attracts a criminal element and frightens those in legitimate need of services," Stewart says.

In October, Stewart says he and Supervisor John Jenkins toured the facility and surrounding areas. He says they were taken aback by the conditions, and issued a directive to Social Services to clean up the situation at the Woodbridge shelter.

The facility is open year-round, providing meals and showers for those in need. Overnight winter shelter hours were put into effect Nov. 1.

In an email to WTOP, Prince William County Board of Supervisor Frank Principi warns against turning away intoxicated clients at homeless shelters when temperatures dip this season.

"Homelessness exists because of the dwindling social safety net, a tough economy, and a severe lack of affordable housing in Prince William County, not because these camps are some kind of paradise for criminals across the Eastern seaboard," he says.

Despite his concerns, Principi says he is confident Social Services will enforce safety standards.

Janine Sewell, the county director of social services, declined to comment.

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