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V.I. Organizations Focus On Helping Homeless

Nov. 10, 2004 –– Those people huddled on a bench on the waterfront in the morning, or walking around all day carrying assortments of bags, or wheeling a cart full of odds and ends are part of the Virgin Islands. They live here. They call our streets their home.
This seemingly abandoned group of people should not feel so abandoned next week. "National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week" has been proclaimed by Gov. Charles W. Turnbull.
The territory's participation is part of a national effort from Nov. 14 to Nov. 20. The week before Thanksgiving each year the National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness co-sponsor events. This year's theme is "Bringing America Home."
This is the second year the V.I. Alliance Against Homelessness Continuum of Care will take part in the endeavor. The program is being coordinated by the Methodist Training and Outreach Center, the central outreach center for the territory. Organizations committed to helping the territory's homeless include Catholic Charities of the Virgin Islands, Frederick Lutheran Church, and the Salvation Army on St. Thomas and on St. Croix, My Brother's Table and the St. Croix Mission Outreach.
The streets are not an easy place to live. "It is a lonely and difficult life," says Michael Akin, Catholic Charities of the Virgin Islands, Inc. executive director. "What you want to do is look for solutions, rather than complain about an inability to deal with it."
One of the hardest things to do, says Akin, is to appeal to the homeless population to come and ask for help. "Many street people feel they have failed the system, or the system has failed them, and they are very suspicious," he says. "It's really a long process to develop that trust."
One thing Catholic Charities has done is run a soup kitchen in Sugar Estate, where the homeless are welcome. Once there, an attempt can be made to offer them further help. "However," Akin says, "that is problematical. There is no place to really refer them. The territory doesn't have special needs facilities where we can put this population. Though Catholic Charities runs the Bethlehem Shelter in Sugar Estate, Akin says, it is not always an appropriate shelter for people who have been living on the street.
The most we can do," Akin says, "is serve a small part of the population by maintaining contact, and providing food and clothing."
"We have been trying something new in the last 23 months or so," he says. "We have a mobile soup kitchen. We go to places where the homeless hang out, like the Contant Car Wash or behind Vitraco." And, he says, people flock to the food truck.
Elouise Benjamin, Akin's assistant director, shed some light on St. Thomas activities that residents can participate in during the upcoming week.
– Sunday – Pray for a homeless person. Churches and individuals are asked to keep the homeless in their prayers.
– Monday – Peter Ottley radio show on WSTA from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.will focus on problems of homlessness.
– Monday – Emancipation Garden, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. –– Official kickoff ceremony. Representatives from all the organizations will address what homelessness is about and what their agencies provide.
– Tuesday – Skip a lunch day. Donate that money to a homeless charity.
– Wednesday – Donate to the Homeless Drive. Bring donations of food, clothing, furniture or money to the Methodist Training Center on lower Main Street, across from Island Fair Department Store, phone 714-7782, or Catholic Charities of the Virgin Islands also on Main Street across from Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral, phone 777-8518. Or donate to your favorite charity.
– Saturday – Emancipation Garden – 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The week's grand finale. Local businesses will cater meals. Representatives from the local programs will provide information.
Benjamin said a complete agenda of events will be available next week.
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