June 22, 2008 — Men who were once homeless for one reason or another have found a new home in the Eagles Nest in Frederiksted, which offers temporary housing and programs to help them "fly again."
Over the past three years, Eagles Nest has been primarily a prison after-care residence for more than 50 men. The residents pay minimal rent for six month to year-long stays.
"In our mission we take a wholeness approach — restoring men's spirit, soul and body," said Rev. John Gilbert, program director at Eagles Nest.
The home in Estate Whim, just off Queen Mary Highway, is on land owned by Frederiksted Baptist Church. The plan 15 years ago was to relocate the church there.
"The door got opened three years ago to make this a home for men," said Gilbert, pastor at the church in Wheel of Fortune.
Rev. Gary Moore and Doug McCoy from St. Croix Christian Church spearheaded the effort, organizing and cleaning up the property for the men's residence.
One enters the home through a big, breezy gallery off the side street. The men congregate there, play dominos, eat, talk, spiritualize and attend workshops.
The five-bedroom two-bath home is fairly old with exterior stone walls and jalousie windows. The large living room has a few sagging bookshelves holding encyclopedias and yellowed paperbacks.
Many residents get support from Alcoholics Anonymous/Narcotics Anonymous meetings at Eagles Nest and elsewhere. Training for the GED and computers, mentoring and spiritual meetings take place at the home.
"Things generally run smoothly here, but as in everything there are problems at times," said Gilbert. "We could use a full time house manager and a bi-lingual counselor for added assistance."
Three-month resident Ronald Luther, 42, was helping out with Spanish translations, though Gilbert was urging him to move on since he had reached his initial goals.
Luther said he wound up homeless because of heroin use. He was arrested, but did less time than he expected. After seven months he was released on probation but had nowhere to go. His family is in Puerto Rico and he didn't want to go back to his old stomping grounds in the projects, the Matthew Charles Housing Community.
"I wasn't going back to that vomit," Luther said. "I needed a fresh start and they gave me an opportunity here. Eagles Nest opened doors for me."
Luther found his current job as a security guard by himself. "I'm now taking care of business," he said.
Gilbert said the residents help take care of the facility. He pointed out the barred windows in need of screens, which the men are in the process of repairing.
"The men do as much maintenance as they are capable of," Gilbert said. "This is an older facility with leaks and other major repairs."
Gilbert would like to increase the two beds per room to three and add 20 beds, dorm style, to the garage. Eagles Nest has secured a grant for repairs from the Department of Natural Resources and the Housing Finance Authority but has yet to receive the funds.
"$60,000 would get the whole job done," Gilbert said. "It would take away from the bed shortages."
Chris Finch, commissioner of Human Services, said there are between 40 and 60 beds for the homeless on St. Croix in three shelters. The number of known homeless on St. Croix goes well beyond that. The last count was 487 territory-wide in 2007.
Agencies partnering with Eagles Nest are Ten Thousand Helpers, St. Croix Mission Outreach, Lutheran Social Services and the Village Partners in Recovery. To find out more about the Eagles Nest call 719-0761 or go to the Eagles Nest website..
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