Amid the sprawling luxury condominiums and vacation villas sprouting up across Love City, a community of almost 50 illegal aliens make their home in the bushes.
Unbeknownst to many who pass by on a daily basis, 47 illegal aliens — most from the Dominican Republic, Haiti and China — were recently discovered during the annual homelessness count on Saturday, March 10, sponsored by V.I. Continuum Care for the Homeless.
“Right after we finished the count, one of our volunteers discovered a whole community of illegals living deep in the bush, so we had 47 additional homeless people to add to the list,” said Dr. Iris Kern, St. John director of Continuum Care for the Homeless. “I knew they were there, but I had no idea how many were living in the community.”
Last year’s St. John homeless count tallied 38 people living on the street. The number was about the same this year, until the illegal alien camp was included, which brought the total to 85, Kern explained.
The exact location of the camp was not known, Kern added.
“I am delighted that we got that community, because too often we miss that,” said Kern. “We were able to include the camp in our count because one of our volunteers was so conscientious.”
A team of volunteers, including homeless people, snow birds, retirees, mental health care professionals and even a representative from the U.S. Attorney’s office helped Kern with the 2007 homeless count.
“The count went extremely well because we had such a great team of volunteers,” Kern said. “It was really a wonderful mix of people who represented the St. John community.”
Caneel Bay Resort and Gallows Point Resort donated toiletries which volunteers distributed to homeless people while Starfish Market’s donations allowed the group to hand out food and beverages to people, Kern explained.
The homeless count is the first step in obtaining federal funds to combat the problem, according to Kern.
“The count is important because first we must have the numbers and the hard data in order to bring federal money into the territory,” she said.
Governor John deJongh has pledged to fight homelessness, according to Kern.
Dealing with Issues
“I really believe that this administration has made a commitment to this problem that exceeds that of any other administration,” Kern said. “Our now-governor marched against homelessness before he was elected. Both in his inaugural address and his State of the Territory speech, deJongh has spoken to the issues of domestic violence, sexual assault and homelessness.”
“We have a commitment which was not here previously and the opportunity to deal with these problems in a very serious way,” continued Kern. “We have to deal with these problems — there are a lot of people who are really marginal in their existence.”
Riding on this wave of optimism and commitment, Kern hopes to make strides in the services offered to homeless on St. John — which presently don’t amount to much.
“For example our little task group for St. John decided the count won’t just be one day,” Kern said. “We are going to continue to meet and will turn this into a real initiative to reach out and help the homeless. Right now we have nothing, nothing, nothing.”
Catholic Charities of the Virgin Islands representatives do travel to St. John twice a week, which is one of the only services available for homeless people on Love City, Kern added.
“There are many times where there is nothing at all for these people — we know there are people who are hungry,” she said. “St. John has no mental health services or substance abuse services right now. Many homeless people need services such as those.”
The volunteers who gathered for the homeless count are planning an upcoming day of donations to the most needy in the Love City community.
“We just want to redistribute a little bit from those who have more than they need to those who have nothing,” said Kern.
Anyone interested in making a donation for the homeless, or who wants to join the volunteers, should call Kern at 693-5757.