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Charlotte Amalie
Thursday, December 7, 2023


Believe me, being homeless is not easy in the "American Paradise," the United States Virgin Islands, despite the great weather.
Yes, we all know that being homeless in the cold up North is not easy either, but many here are robbed, sexually assaulted or attacked for "fun." It is not easy out there.
Many of us walk by the homeless without seeing them, others scorn them, most forget that "there but for the grace of God go I." We also forget that many of us are but two paychecks away from being homeless, as it is often said.
The homeless fall in many categories. There are those who lost a job, or left their homes due to domestic violence. We like to term these people as "the situational homeless." Many times these are single men or single women with children and most often they just need short-term help and guidance in the right direction to get them back on their feet. They are the easiest to help.
Our hardest people to help are our mentally ill homeless, for there are no programs in the Virgin Islands designed to comprehensively address their complex needs. They are, many times by their difficult-to-manage behavior, excluded from the traditional, but limited, assistance programs available in the Virgin Islands.
The needs of the chronically mentally ill are not just for shelter, but for medication assistance (as you know, there are times that the various government programs that provide their medication have none, due to unpaid vendor bills), support services like supervised housing, job training, social security disability payments, where applicable, preventive medical care, and I could go on and on.
My point is, the people we see on the street with odd behavior, some of whom can become violent, need more than just a bed for the night.
We have not done much for our homeless, not really, and it is not like we have thousands as some mainland cities do. The needs of our mentally ill homeless could be addressed if we so choose to make it a priority.
Which brings me to the critical area of funding. There are federal funds in the millions available every year, but we always fall short on being considered for them. Why? Because we lack a Continuum of Care — this is federal jargon for saying that we need a whole pie (read a territory-wide plan), full of services from the lightest to the most complex or a way to get them done.
The federal government does not require us to have everything in place, just a plan that effectively meets the needs of the homeless. Is this too much to ask? I don't think so, not when you think how much we can help our homeless.
We witness a big cry of community outrage when a mentally ill person creates a public disturbance or harms someone. Then everything calms down and it becomes business as usual again.
This is why I was so very glad to read in the Virgin Islands Independent of Feb. 9 of some forward-thinking people in a meeting on St. Croix taking the initiative to develop the much needed Continuum of Care. They understand that this will serve as the basis for our tapping into the large sums of federal dollars as well as maximizing cost-effective use of our limited local resources.
I ask everyone who reads this, please reach out and help them. The article said their next meeting is March 2. Contact Carol Burke at 773- 9149 or Sen. Gregory Bennersen 712-2209.
Editor's note: Catherine L. Mills of St. Thomas, a former Human Services commissioner, holds a master's degree in social work.

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