In years past, it was hard to walk by Franklin Powell Park in Cruz Bay without getting a cheerful greeting from Ervince “Hollywood” Phillip, a mainstay in Cruz Bay. Hollywood would strum the guitar slung around his neck and break into a song, and if a listener cared to make a donation, so much the better – but there was never pressure.
Last year, however, Hollywood suffered a health crisis and was hospitalized off-island. When he returned to St. John, just before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, he was wheelchair-bound.
“I opened my door and saw him there, and said, ‘We need to get a shelter now,’” said Rev. Anthony Abraham, pastor of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Catholic Church in Cruz Bay.
OLMC Catholic Church has been working with Catholic Charities of the Virgin Islands for years to serve breakfast and lunch to those in need.
“Some people feel we shouldn’t feed them, but we in the Caribbean say, ‘A hungry man is an angry man,’” Abraham said. “We feed the hungry and clothe the naked. That is the work of the church.”
It was obvious to him that feeding and clothing were not enough.
Abraham knew of a two-bedroom apartment near the top of Jacob’s Ladder that could be made accessible for a wheelchair, and he asked that the family who owned it hold it for him. Then he approached his congregation.
“A regular island visitor came forward and said, ‘Father, I’ll pay the rent for a year,’” Abraham said. “Then another visitor said, ‘I’ll give $5,000 to furnish the apartment.’ So, we have been able to house four homeless men.”
Over the next several weeks, parishioners arrived with tools to build a ramp, make repairs and paint the apartment. Vera Powell, who owns a meetings and events business, took over decorating.
In March, four residents moved into their new home with a view of the Westin Resort known as Charity House.
“It’s so lovely; it gives a sense of dignity,” Abraham said.
Residents are receiving social services and are required to follow a strict set of guidelines. Since the shelter opened, one resident has moved out, and a new one has moved in.
“This is a transitional house. Our hope is to work with Catholic Charities to build a homeless shelter in Coral Bay,” Abraham said.
The Catholic church raised funds over several years to buy a three-acre parcel from the Marsh family in “the flats” in Coral Bay. Located on King Hill Road just past Love City Market, the site is being prepared for a chapel, community center and homeless shelter. The church will be named for St. Theresa.
“We’ve done a lot of landscaping, and we’ve built a temporary platform for a tent. We hope to have church services out there by July or August,” Abraham said.
In the meantime, OLMC Catholic Church in Cruz Bay is holding services on at 6 p.m. Saturday and twice on Sunday, at 7:30 and 9:30 a.m. Up to 50 worshippers are permitted to attend each service as long as they wear masks and follow the protocol for social distancing. For those who can’t attend in person, the services are live-streamed.