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COMMITTEE: Emergency Housing Is An Urgent Need In The Virgin Islands

 

      Blyden chairs cmte meet    

      Sen. Marvin Blyden chairs committee meeting.

CHARLOTTE AMALIE – The Committee on Housing, Public Works and Waste Management met today to take testimony on emergency housing and get an update from the Waste Management Authority at the Legislature.

Representatives from the Virgin Islands Housing Authority, in conjunction with the Virgin Islands Housing Finance Authority, Department of Health, and Department of Human Services gave testimony about the challenges they face to provide housing, health, and vocational services for the homeless.

Additional testimony was also taken from the Catholic Charities, Methodist Outreach, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of St. Thomas. The Home At Last Program also gave compelling testimononials from individuals helped by their program’s efforts.

“After Jamille (Duporte) was attacked about five years ago his life changed,” said Jamille’s mother Denise Hall. “He went from living a normal independent life to being on the street. He didn’t want to come home because he was attacked in the area I live.

“It hurt me to see him on the street but I never gave up on him. I went to different agencies for help but they said they couldn’t help. One day I was told that someone in a white truck was picking Jamille up. It was right before a storm in March last year and it was raining. I called my daughter and she said it was the Home At Last program and they were putting Jamille in an apartment.”

“I was so happy! It took Jamille some time to adjust to being in an apartment after being on the street for so long. He is now on medication and goes to church every Sunday. His case managers take him to doctor’s visits and any other appointments he has. They are also helping him to find a job because he wants to be independent again. I am so proud of Jamille and thankful to the Home At Last program. Please continue to fund this program so that they can continue to help Jamille.”

The committee members and testifiers were all in agreement that being homeless is a fraction of the problem that the community faces. Emergency housing is a subject that needs to be urgently addressed.

“The primary goal is to help our homeless citizens become independent, stable and functioning members of society,” committee chairman Sen. Marvin Blyden said.

The Committee also discussed funding to expand the homeless initiatives in progress such as securing properties for emergency and transitional housing expansion and other initiatives that can be achieved if the community unites behind them.

The Committee on Housing, Public Works and Waste Management also received an update on landfills, household hazard waste, sewage and the wastewater treatment plants from the VI Waste Management Authority.

The VIWMA expressed the challenges they face by the ongoing fiscal shortfalls of their operating and capital budgets. The Authority implemented a once-a-week collection schedule that has improved efficiency and cost effectiveness resulting in a cost reduction of $360,000 to date.

The Committee and testifiers also discussed the subterranean fires within the landfill on St. Thomas and St. Croix with the St. Thomas landfill surpassing design capacity and proposing solutions to comply with the leasing and restriction agreements with the Virgin Islands Port Authority (VIPA) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The Waste Management Authority continues to operate its wastewater services in compliance with its eight permits, and is working towards relocating its main office facility in St. Croix. The department also noted their efforts to provide additional staffing in both districts to meet its mandates in a timely manner.

“The discussion was very robust and informative in nature and I want to thank Executive Director Cornwall for her commitment and 11 years of service with the Waste Management Authority,” Blyden said. “I look forward to working diligently with her successor in the immediate future to help resolve the waste issues in our territory.”

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The Author

John McCarthy

John McCarthy

John McCarthy is primarily known for his investigative reporting on the U.S. Virgin Islands. A series of reports beginning in the 1990's revealed that there was everything from coliform bacteria to Cryptosporidium in locally-bottled St. Croix drinking water, according to a then-unpublished University of the Virgin Islands sampling. Another report, following Hurricane Hugo in 1989, cited a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) confidential overview that said that over 50 percent of the U.S. Virgin Islands public lives below the poverty line. The Virgin Islands Free Press is the only Caribbean news source to regularly incorporate the findings of U.S. Freedom of Information Act requests. John's articles have appeared in the BVI Beacon, St. Croix Avis, San Juan Star and Virgin Islands Daily News. He is the former news director of WSVI-TV Channel 8 on St. Croix.

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