The need and the services have been around for some time, but until Friday there had been no way to put St. John’s homeless residents in touch with those who can provide help. That changed a bit with the island’s Homeless Connect outreach day.
“It should be every day,” St. John Administrator Leona Smith said.
While some of services such as medical care are provided on St. John, most come through agencies based on St. Thomas. People from various agencies said they come over to St. John when the need arises, but at issue Friday was a way to make the island’s homeless and less fortunate population know those services are available.
St. John has about 40 to 45 homeless people, up from about 22 in 2009, without permanent homes, Celia Kalousek, director of the St. John Community Foundation, said. “It’s the economy,” she said, explaining why the number went up.
Her agency in conjunction with Innovative organized the event. She said that about 75 people volunteered to help.
“It’s beautiful because it’s something to help the community,” said St. Thomas resident Carmen Amaro, a volunteer who works for Innovative.
Many of those seeking services live in the bush, on the beach or on derelict boats. Some sleep under boats overturned on the beach.
The total number of people who received services Friday was close to 60, Kalousek said. She said 15 of those people were women and the rest men.
To help determine what information those who registered wanted, Homeless Connect assigned an escort to each of them. They received training in how to handle the job.
The day started with a full breakfast provide compliments of more than a dozen St. John restaurants. Served at Nazareth Lutheran Church’s yard, it was the first stop after registration at the church hall for those needing services.
Coral Bay residents Kat Reynolds, 53, and Stephen Ryskiewicz, 60, were wrapping up their breakfast before heading over to Morris deCastro Clinic for health care.
“Vision and a mammogram referral,” Reynolds said, ticking off the list of services she hoped to get.
Ryskiewicz said wanted his eyes checked too.
While both had a place to live, Reynolds said she hasn’t been able to find cabinet maker work for two years. Ryskiewicz said he was looking for similar work with no luck.
For Allan Clarke, 55, who said he lives “between” St. Thomas and St. John, it was a matter of getting a new pair of shoes. Wearing a pair of battered blue flip flops, he was happily holding a pair of black sneakers.
As the morning progressed and things got busier at the Lutheran Church, newly weds Mercedes and David Himmelwright of Fort Lauderdale provided an unexpected surprise when they came out of the church in their wedding finery.
“It’s wonderful to have guests,” Mercedes Himmelwright said, noting that the Homeless Connect activity provided a little something extra to their wedding.
The event stretched from the Lutheran Church to Morris deCastro Clinic to the parking lot in front of the Cruz Bay public bathrooms, where more than a dozen agencies had staff on hand to provide information.
Avis Blackman and Kahlida Lloyd of Legal Services of the Virgin Islands had flyers to pass out. Ticking off all the things the St. Thomas-based agency can provide, Lloyd said that it even helps people obtain Social Security cards.
“And help remedy the reason why they became homeless,” Lloyd said.
Ermin Boschulte of Catholic Charities of the Virgin Islands was on hand to provide information about its services including a Tuesday soup kitchen held weekly on St. John.
Many of those who are homeless are veterans, and a handful of people from various veterans services agencies were on hand to help. Sandra Benjamin of the U.S. Army’s Survivor Outreach Services program was there to connect with those who have family members who died during military service.