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Advocates Say Homelessness Can No Longer be Ignored

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Nov. 19, 2006 — Members of the Methodist Training and Outreach Center on St. Thomas came out in full force over the weekend, taking over downtown Charlotte Amalie with bright smiles, speakers blaring loud soca music and tables laden with food and drinks for the island's homeless population.
While members of the organization tried to keep the mood positive, dancing and laughing with residents in the early morning sunshine, they also advocated for the entire community to come out and join ongoing efforts to eliminate the "scourge of homelessness" currently plaguing the territory.
"Everyone should help the homeless," said Laurence Joshua, chair of Continuum of Care. "Because none of us are far away from becoming homeless ourselves. All it takes is one lost job, and that's it. You're on the streets."
Continuum of Care, which serves as the umbrella organization for many local outreach groups, helped sponsor Saturday's event, which came at the end of National Hunger and Homelessness Week. Since last Sunday, the group, along with representatives from support organizations such as the Methodist Training and Outreach Center (MTOC) has been engaged in numerous activities, spreading the message that "homelessness, as a community problem, can no longer be ignored."
MTOC members outlined several problems on Saturday, saying that many outreach organizations currently lack the resources necessary to house and rehabilitate the homeless. While Louise O. Petersen, the center's executive director, discussed several of the organization's "success stories," she also said that MTOC needs more funding in order to expand facilities, purchase supplies and conduct much-needed research.
Currently, the center provides case-management services for the homeless and residents with HIV, along with transitional and permanent housing. However, Petersen said that the absence of permanent housing facilities in the territory has hindered the organization from carrying out its duties.
Petersen said the center serves approximately 105 residents each year. Of that amount, 70 percent are individuals suffering from alcohol and substance-abuse problems. "Others come to us because of domestic abuse, while HIV patients come to us because they have been shunned by family members or have lost their jobs," she said.
In order to accommodate these individuals, Petersen and Joshua said the government has to "step up" and provide more temporary and affordable housing opportunities for residents.
"The community organizations also need more funding," Petersen said, adding that federal grant money had continued to dwindle over the years. "We're getting less and less from the federal government, while our homeless population continues to grow. Obviously, we need more help."
Joshua added that Bethlehem House on St. Thomas serves as the island's only temporary housing shelter. "People are supposed to only be in there for three or four months, but many are unable to get a job, so they stay in there for years. What we need are more facilities, more rehabilitation services to help people get integrated back into society."
Both MTOC and the Continuum of Care are taking the first step by attempting to build a "safe haven" for the homeless population in downtown St. Thomas. "But again, in order to do that, we need some help from the community, so we hope this week's activities have helped to spread awareness for the work we do and the work that needs to be done," Petersen said. "Every year we get more support, so we hope that continues."
For more information on the Continuum of Care and other local outreach organizations, or to make a donation, call 714-7782.

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