If all goes as planned, the homeless population of St. John will be able to receive an array of critical services at a new support center by the end of the year.
The St. John Community Foundation has been awarded a $30,000 grant to set up a site where people who are homeless, vulnerably housed, or in transition will be able contact social and medical care providers, potential employers, and family members.
Known as the Homeless Support Center, the site will also provide counseling services and serve as a distribution center for donations of food, clothing and toiletries. Lockers will be provided where clients may store important documents and other belongings.
Celia Kalousek, executive director of the St. John Community Foundation (SJCF), emphasized that the site will operate as a day center and not as a shelter.
“It will not be a hangout,” she said.
Currently, there are no shelters on island for the estimated 75 people who are homeless or at high risk of being homeless on St. John. The target population for the center’s services is fluid. As many as 189 individuals have taken advantage of free meals provided by church groups on St. John, according to records from 2015. Approximately 30 are considered homeless by the standards established by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Exactly where the center will be located has not been finalized. The SJCF is working with St. John Administrator Camille Paris and the Department of Property and Procurement to determine if a site that was formerly slated to house the Safety Zone could be used. That building is situated between St. Ursula’s Church and the St. John Inn. The project initially proposed locating the center at the Lumberyard.
Kalousek, who based her master’s thesis on the health and welfare needs of homeless adults on St. John, has been coordinating her efforts with volunteers from several churches to provide at least one meal a day to the needy.
The Faith in Action group includes volunteers from Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Catholic Church, which serves lunch on Mondays and Fridays; the Nazareth Lutheran Church, which serves lunch on Tuesdays (with the assistance of Catholic Charities of St. Thomas); and the Seventh Day Adventist Church, which serves dinner on Thursdays.
Meals are provided by volunteers on weekends and other times by the Seventh Day Adventist Church, Freshwater Church, and other caring individuals. In addition, the Catholic Church provides access to showers and laundry facilities during the week.
Kalousek has pushed for the establishment of a support center to assist these groups in collecting and distributing donations of food and toiletries.
The center, which has plans to operate between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., will also provide the homeless with access to phones and computers with internet service.
“There is no consistent place for the homeless to go for assistance in maintaining connections with social service providers and potential employment opportunities,” Kalousek said.
Many of the homeless have lost important documents as they’ve been moved by police from their makeshift housing or by theft.
“Not having these documents can mean denial of vital services,” Kalousek said, and for the most vulnerable, this can be critical. “Unfortunately, we lost three to untimely deaths that could have been prevented with a support system and proper medical attention.”
On the bright side, the SJCF has assisted five formerly homeless individuals in attaining permanent housing. One person, who had been on the streets of St. John for 27 years, was provided a place to live on St. Thomas through the Home at Last program operated by Catholic Charities.
Another person entered into rehab in Florida through the Salvation Army. A third person went to the Bethlehem House Shelter on St. Thomas and two others were reunited with family members.
The proposal for the grant was one of 18 selected from among 52 proposals submitted to the Virgin Islands Housing Finance Authority. That agency administers HUD’s Discretionary Grants, a program which includes Community Development Block Grants, Emergency Solution Grants, and the Home Investment Partnership Program.
Also selected for funding was a proposal by the Family Resource Center to provide one-on-one counseling services to youth and teens who have been victims of child abuse, domestic violence, or crime.
The Family Resource Center, which is based on St. Thomas, has been providing these services at the Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Center for the past three years.
“We had an unexpected volume of need, including youth who are at risk for suicide,” said Vivian St. Juste, executive director of the FRC.
Their grant, for $43,000, will service clients on St. Thomas and St. John.