In what they’re calling a major step towards eradicating homelessness, the V.I. Department of Human Services announced Friday that they are launching a new program in partnership with Catholic Charities of the Virgin Islands.
The Permanent Supportive Housing Project will provide chronically homeless clients with apartments for as long as they are in the program. Once they are off the street, an “assertive community treatment team” will actively provide the client with social service support, DHS said.
The teams will be comprised of professionals in the fields of housing, social services and medical care. They will provide clients with mental and general health care, employment readiness, substance abuse recovery and aid them with their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.
Human Services issued a request for proposals to local nonprofits to run the PSH program in 2012 and Catholic Charities submitted the winning plan. They will receive $900,000 from the Virgin Islands government to hire the ACT team and administer the project.
Michael Akin, executive director of Catholic Charities, said his organization’s established history of aiding the homeless likely helped them secure the grant, but that the holistic scope of this project is more than Catholic Charities or any other nonprofit in the territory has ever attempted.
“No one is doing it now. It’s a new program for the Virgin Islands,” he said. “No one in the Virgin Islands has experience with permanent supportive housing, or very little experience, I would say.”
Akin said that until now, most charities in the territory have only provided palliative care, supplying meals or clothing but doing little to address the root causes of homelessness. He said his organization was eager to pursue a more aggressive and far-reaching approach.
“It’s just the next step,” he said. “It’s the next progression in providing services to the homeless.”
The current grant is only enough to fund a pilot program this year, serving no more than 40 clients all of whom will be chosen from the St. Thomas/St. John district. Human Services is confident that the program will be expanded in the future, however.
“I’m looking forward to the local implementation of the program which has proven very successful elsewhere, and it is our hope sooner rather than later that we will expand the program territorywide,” said Commissioner Christopher Finch in a written statement.
The PSH program is not a local invention. It stems from the Housing First movement, a holistic philosophy for ending homelessness that has caught on widely in the United States. Akin says that local charities and Human Services have been aware of the approach for years and have worked hard to bring it to the territory.
In his written statement, Finch expressed confidence that the program would continue to receive funding beyond this year, but Akin says that Catholic Charities would actively search for additional funding sources to help speed the program’s expansion.
“We expect to be working extremely closely with Human Services because we really do want to make this work,” Akin said.
In related news, Human Services also announced on Friday that it would be expanding a program to provide housing and social services to disabled individuals who are in danger of becoming homeless.
Funded by a federal McKinney-Vento grant of $324,000, the program already serves four clients on St. Thomas. Twelve additional clients will be added to the program from across the territory.