Forum examines homeless situation in V.I.
Published: September 28, 2012
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ST. THOMAS - A coalition of community groups on Thursday night announced two new initiatives to help address the problem of homelessness in the territory.
V.I. Human Services Commissioner Christopher Finch outlined the programs - Project Homeless Connect and Permanent Supportive Housing - at a forum hosted by Downtown Revitalization Inc. at the University of the Virgin Islands.
Finch said about 500 homeless people are in the territory, about 100 of whom live in shelters. Many are chronically homeless, defined as being homeless for a year or more, and self-identify as having substance abuse issues.
Finch said both of the programs discussed Thursday have proven effective in combating homelessness.
Cherise Creque Quain of The United Way of St. Thomas-St. John said Project Homeless Connect is primarily an outreach program to engage homeless people with services such as health care, counseling and food stamps.
"Just like any other community problem, it takes a village to be able to cause an impact," she said.
Quain said studies have shown it is cheaper to house the homeless than to leave them on the streets. She said there are "a plethora of situations" that involve police or medical services and end up costing taxpayers more than it would to simply house the person in the first place.
Michael Akin of Catholic Charities of the Virgin Islands announced his organization has received a $900,000 grant from the V.I. Human Services Department to execute the Permanent Supportive Housing program.
"It's a big deal," he said.
Akin said the program is based on a "housing-first model" of identifying candidates in the homeless population and then moving them into apartments with social workers, medical professionals or other specialized staff. Meanwhile, the program ensures the person has an adequate support structure through something called an assertive community treatment program.
"We're a faith-based agency that's taking a leap of faith that you can take a homeless person and get them off the street," Akin said.
Akin said the program hopes to get 40 people off the streets in its first year and 40 more the year after that.
"I know it's going to take some selling to the community and to the landlords," Akin said. "But this has proven effective in improving the lives of chronically homeless people."
He said on a per-capita basis, the territory's rate of homelessness is twice that of any city in the mainland U.S.
"I think we all have come to grips with the fact that we have a lot of homelessness," Akin said.
DRI Homelessness and Public Safety Committee Chairwoman Shelley Williams said dealing with that reality needs to be a high priority for the territory.
"Our goal is to become the premier tourist destination in the Caribbean," she said. "Until we address the homelessness issue, it will not be possible to do that."
- Contact reporter Lou Mattei at 714-9124 or email email@example.com.