Homeless people often have an array of medical problems, but many lack the requirements, including valid government-issued identification, to access services from government clinics.
Catholic Charities of the Virgin Islands has a solution. Every second Saturday of the month, they host a free medical clinic at Bethlehem House located in the Department of Human Services complex in Hospital Ground, Charlotte Amalie.
The homeless from St. John are very welcome to attend.
“We’re Catholic Charities from St. Thomas AND St. John,” said Andrea Shillingford, the organization’s executive director.
“We will pick them up at Red Hook, bring them to the clinic, give them a meal and a shower, attend to their medical needs, and take them back to St. John. We aren’t funded for this. We just volunteer,” said Shillingford.
The problem is paying for the ferry tickets for the homeless to get to St. Thomas. Without local identification, the fare is $14 round trip, and Shillingford said Catholic Charities is looking for an agency to sponsor this portion of their travel.
Shillingford said the two major barge companies allow Catholic Charities to bring their vehicles over free of charge when the organization makes its twice weekly deliveries of food from St. Thomas for the free lunch program on St. John, but no arrangements have been made with the ferry companies.
In the absence of an arrangement with the ferry companies, the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands sometimes uses the Dial-A-Ride vehicle to transport clients to the clinic.
Shillingford said clients who are homeless are more likely to endure whatever wait they might encounter at Bethlehem House than at government clinics. She said they often become impatient waiting at government clinics and walk out before they can be treated.
Bethlehem House maintains three rooms where clients can receive assistance with medical, dental, or mental health issues. The doctors volunteer their services and donate the equipment and medication. They treat between 20 and 25 patients on a typical Saturday.
“We have some of the best doctors on St. Thomas,” she said. “Dr. Donald Pomeranz, the dentist, opens up his office on that Saturday especially for our clients.”
When St. John clients use the services at the clinic, they sometimes are then able to find housing in the shelter at Bethlehem House. There are no shelter facilities on St. John.
Women, especially those with children, are more likely to find a spot there, Shillingford said.
“Women tend to move out much more quickly than the men. Most of them move back home, or in with family members, or they find jobs and settle down and say, ‘I can take it from here.’”
As of May 2017, Celia Kalousek of the St. John Community Foundation knows of 63 individuals on St. John who are homeless or unstably housed. She estimates that 40 can be classified as chronically homeless. About half are from the Virgin Islands. Almost 90 percent are males, and about 75 percent have substance abuse or mental health issues.
Those who want to donate or volunteer can contact:
– Catholic Charities of the Virgin Islands at 777-8518
– Cruz Bay Seventh-day Adventist Church at 779-4477
– Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church at 776-6339
– The St. John Community Foundation at 693-9410