Many are without a home in paradise
SHARI CHRYSS ALFRED|
ST. THOMAS – Take a drive through downtown Charlotte Amalie and you’ll be amazed by the numerous historical monuments you’ll find within feet of each other. What is not so amazing are the vagrants that call these landmarks home.
For years the Emancipation Garden and the Fort Christian grounds have been home to homeless people in St. Thomas.
Today about 20 persons can be found there daily, with what little belongings they own in plastic bags, sleeping on concrete floor of the gazebo in the garden or on the grass adjacent to the fort.
Not many see that as a bad thing though.
Brian Stanley, a Colorado native who moved to the islands in 2009, is among those residing in Emancipation Garden. Stanley became addicted to cocaine in 2011 and lost everything including his family.
“For months I walked the streets often sleeping at bus stops then one day I ended up here,” said Stanley, stuttering as he spoke.
For him it was just a place he would come to hoping to find work but then it became home.
“I would come here to help out the vendors to make some change, no more than $20 a day, but then I became friends with other people going through the same problems as me and I ended up staying,” said Stanley.
Like Stanley, many have stuck around because of the “at-home feeling” that it brings.
“It’s safe here, we could have it worse, ” said Daniel Casper. “It’s not the best but sometimes we have music. We almost always have food, and we have each other.”
A study conducted last year by the Catholic Charities and the Methodist Training and Outreach Center reached a count of 140 homeless persons living on the island. Many of whom, frown upon the fact that they are forced to live in the conditions like this expressing frustration with the little that the government is doing to help.
One of the few options open is the Catholic Charities Bethlehem house that only offers a 30-day stay.
“We go to the shelters and they don’t want us there,” said one woman who chose to remain anonymous. “It’s hard cause we end up right back on the street. Some of us are not lucky enough to have family to rescue us.”
About a month ago, Jeffery Smith, who many knew as the “man who lived on Raphune Hill” was a victim of a fatal accident that took place on Rhymer Highway.
An article published by the Virgin Islands Daily News stated that the Virgin Islands Police Department stated that the department was still investigating the death, but Smith’s family said that it was merely a case of unfortunate timing.
Family members said that he suffered from mental illness, though he was a good and gentle man.
“He once lived here with us and it hurts that he’s no longer here with us but what hurts more is that his family didn’t even seem to care,” said Thomas Riley, who has been living at the garden for 6 years.
“Sometimes the police come and they run us but we come back because we have nowhere to go, that’s how he ended up there, it’s sad, really sad,” he continued.
Despite the lack of support from the government, others have made efforts to assist those who are less fortunate.
Annually the University of the Virgin Islands, in conjunction with the Department of Health and local charities, host a fair for all vagrants in the community offering opportunities for them to improve their physical appearance, emotional health, and other opportunities to better their life styles.
Most recently, the UVI Sports and Carnival committees delivered a total of 60 plates and drinks to vagrants in the Charlotte Amalie area.
“One plate may not seem like much but it definitely can count for something,” said Andrew Authurton chairperson of the Sports Committee. “Seeing persons that we were once in school with on the street is heartbreaking. Hopefully we can make more donations in the future.”
The Rho Omicron chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated recently conducted a clothing drive. Proceeds will be donated to the Catholic Charities Bethlehem House.
“The young people seem to care more than those in government,” said Riley, “it shouldn’t be that way, hopefully that will change soon.”