Bethlehem House Homeless Shelter, St. Croix USVI post Hurricane Maria

Catholic Charities USA Story

A Journal of Recovery Efforts in the U.S. Virgin Islands: Entry for October 2, 2017

A story about Disaster Operations featuring Catholic Charities USA and Catholic Charities of the Virgin Islands

The thing about an island-wide disaster is that...  It’s island-wide.  Or in the current case of the U.S. Virgin Islands, territory-wide.  There is not one of the approximately 100,000 permanent residents of St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John who was not adversely affected by one or the other – or both - of September’s two major hurricanes.

Water damage to homes is almost universal.  It lashed through broken windows, gushed under doorways, seeped through cracks and crevices and washed up from the sodden ground through foundations.  Those who can say “We just got water” count themselves lucky.  Many had much worse problems.

At Catholic Charities of the Virgin Islands, the irony is that one-fifth of the small staff who serve the agency’s primary clients, the homeless, are now homeless themselves. The wonder is that they keep on working, fulfilling the mission.

In Hurricane Maria, one veteran worker on St. Croix lost her roof; another suffered so much damage her home is uninhabitable. On St. Thomas an administrative employee rode out Hurricane Irma in her ancestral home as it was torn apart by the winds and soaked in the downpour. Executive Director Andrea Shillingford’s home was so badly damaged she and her husband have been living in a hotel room, courtesy of his employer, for the past three weeks. They must leave by October 10 and aren’t sure yet where they will go. Their landlord estimates it will take three months before he can make repairs to their home.

Meanwhile, CCVI is also still looking for housing for the 21 clients who were displaced when St. Croix’s Bethlehem House homeless shelter was damaged by Maria.  They have been staying in a pubic emergency shelter.  And the local government is anxious to close those shelters and return the buildings, mostly public schools, to their customary use.  

Staff visit the emergency shelter daily to check on the clients there.  On both St. Croix and St. Thomas, CCVI continues to serve meals at soup kitchens and to offer outreach services to the chronic homeless who live on the street. The Bethlehem House shelter on St. Thomas is also housing residents who are temporarily homeless.

All of those are regular activities that have continued in the aftermath of the storms.

Additionally, CCVI recently partnered with the Virgin Islands Department of Health to open a temporary mental health clinic at Bethlehem House on St. Thomas.  The territory’s hospitals, clinics and long term mental health care facility were all damaged in the storms.  Bethlehem House already had two rooms designed for medical services where local doctors and health care providers operate a free clinic once a month, so it has converted one of those rooms for use as the mental health clinic.
Two nurses and a psychologist are on site daily from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. to dispense medication and provide counseling. Shillingford said the service is free and open to the public, serving “whoever needs.”

Submitted by Bernetia Akin

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