Volunteers working with local charities and the Departments of Health and Human Services teamed up Friday for a day of service called Project Homeless Connect. Those who have worked with the annual day of service say the project’s aim is to bring services closer to those who might not otherwise seek them out.
Tents sprung up around the bungalow on Friday, where many poor and unhoused people congregate. Under the tents sat service providers offering health screenings and counseling. Behind one heavily sheeted tent was a shower. A local phone company shared information on affordable call options. Stacks of packaged soup containers lined one table where clients were encouraged to help themselves. Hygiene kits packed in cloth tote bags were also there for the taking.
There were also those from the small business sector. Among them was barber Moses Carty who set up a chair inside the bungalow near a concrete stall lined with combs, sprays, towels, and tools. Carty said the clients who come into his shop keep him busy, but he always makes time to join Homeless Connect.
Daniel’s clippers buzzed, and trimmings hit the market floor. Client Kiko Joseph flashed a satisfied smile and said he was looking forward to seeing his mother in a few weeks. Others waited patiently for their turn in the chair while Everton Daniel sat nearby, enjoying a mid-morning snack.
“This happens every year. They usually have it by the college,” Daniel said.
Erma Derima from Methodist Outreach stood outside her agency headquarters, facing the bungalow. A shave and a haircut help her clients feel better about themselves, she said. Most days, those who frequent the bungalow at Market Square come into her office to get help filling out applications for veterans’ assistance, housing, and food assistance. But she said the day of service is different.
“Every day, we see people passing them by because of where they are, but today we’re rubbing elbows with them. We’re feeding them, we’re giving them haircuts, we’re giving them showers, and making sure they are getting all the necessary support services they need,” Derima said.
Representatives of Catholic Charities and the Methodist Training and Outreach Center circulated through the square, answering questions from people who came to help. Members of the Salvation Army, who provide a daily meal service steps away from the Market Square, set up their tent near Kronprindsens Gade.
Cira Burke from Human Services has been working with Homeless Connect for 12 years, including those years when the event is staged at UVI’s Sports and Fitness Center. She said her agency recognizes that some of the people that need their help never make their way into their offices. “We take the opportunity to bring the services to the people and partner up with community agencies, nonprofits, as well as other government entities,” she said.
When asked how many people make up the homeless population in the Virgin Islands, neither Burke nor Angela Shillingford, director of Catholic Charities could give a ready answer. Shillingford said the last point-in-time count was conducted in 2021, but because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the numbers seemed low.
For a better sense of who is part of the community, the director said she turns to Catholic Charities meal service records. “We know that we feed 500 people a day across the territory,” she said.
But both Shillingford and Derima said they think the numbers will soon see an increase when one sector of homeless people begins to appear. Couch surfers are those who have no permanent address of their own but shelter temporarily with family and friends.
They say the surge in those counted among the homeless may come as the pandemic wanes when those who sheltered them for the past two years say it’s time for their guests to move on. The government is not discussing the situation, the charity workers said, and they see no signs that preparations are being made to meet their needs.