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Where Have All the Homeless Gone?

Sept. 16, 2004 – For tens of thousands of Virgin Islanders, the stormy weather of the past few days has meant hunkering down – mostly at home – to ride out the winds and the rains of Tropical Storm Jeanne. But for those who have no home there are no such comforts.
The dozens of homeless people who have become a common sight in Charlotte Amalie and elsewhere on St. Thomas have all but vanished over the past two days. But where they have gone, nobody knows.
Not Alvin Henley Sr. at the Bethlehem House shelter, run by Catholic Charities; not Louise Petersen at the Methodist Training and Outreach Center. Neither Enok Sam at the Salvation Army nor officials at V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency or the Human Services Department have been able to say where the homeless go to get out of the rain.
Human Services Commissioner Sedonie Halbert said her staff was keeping irregular hours because nonessential government agencies were ordered closed by Gov. Charles W. Turnbull. Nonetheless, she said, Human Services staff was stopping in at the office periodically to see if anyone was seeking help during the storm.
"Usually the Methodist Outreach and Catholic Charities are the ones that house (the homeless)," Halbert said Thursday. "Usually we get involved when they need to be moved, if they need medical assistance."
By Thursday no one had come to bed down by Bethlehem House, Henley said. He speculated that left to their own devices the homeless – many of whom suffer from mental illness – depend on the kindness of others.
"They find a safe, dry place to go. It might not have to be a shelter per se, but it will be a safe dry place, maybe a friend or a relative, or someplace where the person who owns the place will not mind them staying there because of the weather," Henley said.
The one thing the homeless on St. Thomas have taken advantage of at Bethlehem House, near the Lionel Roberts Stadium, and the Salvation Army, just off the Rothschild Francis "Market" Square are the free meals and dry clothes available to them. At the Salvation Army, several people have dropped in for food and fresh clothes, Sam said
At the Methodist center, director Louise Petersen said she would gladly open the doors for anyone in need in case of emergency, and the adverse weather plaguing the territory might constitute such an emergency.
But, she said, there was one impediment. "We do have two shelters but I didn't want to put anyone in there because we don't have the final approval of HUD," she said.
Volunteers at the American Red Cross also opened the doors to emergency shelters the night Tropical Storm Jeanne brought the first of several inches of rain to the Virgin Islands. But for the first several hours there were no takers.
Pastor Errol Connor at Nisky Moravian said Thursday there was some activity around the emergency shelter in the afternoon. "I know some persons came in earlier, but they didn't stay," he said.
Experts on mental health have testified at Senate hearings over the past several months that the Virgin Islands may have up to 5,000 homeless people living on its streets.

(See: "Cancellations, Postponements Due to Rain, Flooding" for an up-to-the minute listing of closings, cancellations, postponements and other weather related developments.)
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