The V.I. government has continuously and miserably failed in its responsibility to establish programs and facilities for St. John youth, according to a December 2007 report to the governor filed by the St. John Youth Committee.
The committee, formed under a directive by Governor John deJongh to evaluate and address concerns of Love City’s youth, consists of six adults and five young adults who meet regularly and work in conjunction with St. John Administrator Leona Smith.
Everything from energized, open electrical wiring to playing fields strewn with rocks and animal droppings plague government-run facilities, according to the report. Local residents have tried to rectify some of these problems.
“But citizens should not be expected to do it all,” according to the report. “For many years, the people of St. John have asked the government for help in providing at least adequate facilities for our youth. Those requests have gone unanswered for far too long.”
Public Health Concern
Local public recreation areas such as the Pine Peace basketball court, which was flooded with sewage and unusable for months, and island ball fields which lack both restrooms and running water, are unsuitable for use by children or adults, the report continues.
“These issues are not just a matter of convenience,” the report states. “They are a public health concern. Youth avoid some recreational areas because they are unequipped.”
Students who would like to opt for more educational after-school activities, such as spending time at the library, are unable to do so due to numerous problems at the Elaine I. Sprauve Library.
“The public library, although a well organized and historic structure, has long sought restoration and basic repairs,” according to the report. “It has no lighting in the restroom, no custodial help, exposed electrical wiring and promised maintenance never materializes. Activities for younger youth during school hours are a benefit but older youth have complained that the library is not open late enough for them to take advantage of the facility because by the time they arrive back from school on St. Thomas or even those private schools here on St. John, it is closed.”
The report also points out a lack of government-run sports programs, counseling programs and summer programs on St. John. While local civic groups help the situation by organizing sports programs and donating books to schools, the government has dropped the ball when it comes to Love City’s youth, according to the report.
Increase in Youth-related Crime
Despite efforts by local residents, the lack of youth activities on St. John is beginning to cause visible problems.
“When programs and activities are lacking, the possibility of some children being led astray are very real,” according to the report. “Already, we are seeing an increase in youth-related crime on St. John. We strongly believe that such inappropriate behavior can be directly attributed to a lack of meaningful activities.”
“Illegal drug use, petty thievery, the formation of gang culture and inappropriate social behavior could be sharply decreased with continuous counseling programs and greater citizen awareness,” the report continues.
Youth criminal activity is on the rise, and early intervention is necessary to change attitudes before it’s too late, according to the committee’s report.
The Youth Committee produced a video highlighting problems the island’s youth face on a daily basis, including the condition of government-run facilities, to share with deJongh at a meeting scheduled for later this month.
“The government must take a more proactive role in understanding what is needed if we are to be successful,” the report concludes. “The citizens of St. John are willing and able to partner with the government but a partnership is only as good as the willingness of the participants. Our future is very dependent on that.”
Smith has not read the committee’s findings, and Government House spokesperson Jean Greaux did not return calls last week seeking comment on the governor’s reaction to the Youth Committee report.