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Social Services Center In Arlington To Close

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Since 2008, the Peer Empowerment Center has been a place to go for people with mental disorders and substance abuse problems — a place to use the computer, watch television, participate in counseling, or just meet people.

Chris Torbati suffers from bipolar disorder. When his Arlington caseworker suggested the Peer Empowerment Center might help him, he gave it a try.

"I usually, like, stay in the house," Torbati says. "But she introduced it to me as someplace to get out and meet other people who like video games and stuff like that."

So here he is, at the center just off Columbia Pike, playing a swordfighting video game called Soul Calibur. His friend Jeff Hughes is about to claim the victory.

Hughes, who suffers from Aspergers Syndrome says he thinks it's a mistake for the county to eliminate funding for the center.

"To close down a place that benefits so many people is most illogical," Hughes says.

But soon, they'll need to find someplace else to go. Arlington County has decided to eliminate funding for the center, just off Columbia Pike. A spokesman for the county says the operation failed to meet minimum standards in providing a warm, welcoming, encouraging and supportive environment.

Director Yvonne Morales disagrees.

"We are not given money each time somebody walks in," says Morales. "We are not paid by Medicaid. So we are not concerned about directly making business off of a headcount."

The program is expected to shut its doors later this week. County officials say they are looking for another vendor to provide the services.

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