Forum at UVI tonight to target homelessness in territory
Published: September 27, 2012
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ST. THOMAS - The St. Thomas community is invited to attend a forum on homelessness at 6 p.m. today at the University of the Virgin Islands.
The forum is organized by Downtown Revitalization Inc. as a way to bring together government, nonprofit organizations and the wider community to have a frank discussion about homelessness and potential solutions.
Shelley Williams, DRI Homeless and Public Safety Committee chairwoman, is leading the event.
She said Downtown Revitalization Inc. has a mission to find ways to beautify the downtown Charlotte Amalie area and to address crime and violence in the community.
"For some people it is a moral issue, to assist those in need, but also it makes good business sense. If we want to be one of the premier destinations in the Caribbean, we need to address our homeless," she said.
The territory has a population of about 106,000, which includes about 500 homeless people. While about 100 live in shelters, the rest are living on the streets in the town areas, Human Services Commissioner Christopher Finch said.
Williams said about 45 percent of the territory's homeless say they do not have permanent housing because of mental illness and/or substance abuse issues.
"We are asking people to bring their ideas and their open minds, and their willingness to help," Williams said.
About 10 groups and organizations that provide services to the homeless will have tables set up at the forum for members of the public to ask questions and learn how to help.
Finch will be one of the forum's guest speakers, along with Cherise Creque of United Way St. Thomas-St. John, Catholic Charities of the Virgin Islands' director Michael Akin, and a former homeless person.
Finch said he will talk about a recent grant his agency awarded to Catholic Charities to provide 40 beds in an effort to get people off the street permanently.
He said two main tactics are used in dealing with homelessness - maintaining as comfortable an existence as possible or getting people out of homelessness.
"The permanent supportive housing program is really a program designed to end homelessness," Finch said. "This is a really big step for the government."
He said he will also discuss how the government and the community can do a better job at transitioning foster children into independent adulthood. He said a high number of homeless people come from the foster care system and end up on the streets because they have no family support system.
Williams said the goal of the forum is to build connections between the government, the service providers, local business owners and potential volunteers.
"We're not trying to duplicate efforts," she said.
She invited anyone who has had issues with homeless people in the downtown area to attend the forum.
"Maybe you have a homeless person that's interfering with your clientele and you need help to figure out this issue," Williams said.
She also encouraged property owners, business owners, people considering development or renovation of affordable housing units, members of civic organizations with interest in charitable causes, individuals interested in supporting service organizations and those interested in the revitalization of Charlotte Amalie to attend.
The forum will take place from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the UVI Administration Building Conference Center on St. Thomas.
- Contact Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.