A journal of recovery efforts in U.S. Virgin Islands: September 21, 2017

September 26, 2017

Among the countless structures on St. Croix that sustained major damage from Hurricane Maria this week was the Bethlehem House homeless shelter, operated by Catholic Charities of the Virgin Islands.

Andrea Shillingford, executive director of CCVI, reported Thursday that both buildings at the shelter are uninhabitable. A tree fell on one, damaging the roof. The other building was virtually destroyed by the 165- mile per hour winds. The agency’s van, which is used for outreach services, was also damaged.

No one was injured.

Shillingford said the 21 residents at St. Croix’s Bethlehem House had been moved to a public disaster shelter at Educational Complex High School before the storm as a precaution because “We were not sure how the building was going to hold up.”

Bethlehem House homeless shelter on St. Thomas is operational. Currently it is housing 27 people, she said.

Both shelters are designed to house men, women and children who find themselves temporarily homeless.

CCVI also serves the chronic homeless who live on the streets. Shillingford said before Maria struck, staff picked up about 40 street clients and took them to various public disaster shelters. They made seven trips in the agency van, working until midnight.

Some personnel at the government shelters refused to take the clients, so Shillingford said she instructed her staff to check at the VITEMA (Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency) office to see what to do.

“Luckily the governor (Kenneth Mapp) was there,” she said. He instructed personnel at the disaster shelters to accept the people.

Shillingford speculated that most of the chronic homeless have probably returned to the streets, despite the devastation. Residents of the former Bethlehem House St. Croix facility are still in public shelters and CCVI is looking for a building to accommodate them until repairs can be made.

Maria was the second major storm to hit the territory in two weeks. Hurricane Irma inflicted widespread damage throughout St. Thomas and St. John. Hurricane Maria caused tremendous wind damage on St. Croix and major flooding and unprecedented storm surge on St. Thomas. On Facebook, one resident suggested a name for the double whammy: “Irmaria.”

Currently there is a 24-hour curfew throughout the territory, while the government attempts to clear roads of debris.

Submitted by Bernetia Akin

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