The most immediate challenge facing Catholic Charities of the Virgin Islands in the wake of back-to-back monster storms is finding a home for the people who were living at Bethlehem House in Kingshill, St. Croix, when it was badly damaged last week by Hurricane Maria.
The residents had been evacuated to public disaster shelters before the storm struck and so were unharmed, but they now have nowhere to go. Bethlehem House is a safety net for people who find themselves temporarily homeless and need a place to stay while they get back on their feet.
With cooperation the by-word in the territory, CCVI is reaching out to the diocese, to the local government and to other non-profits in efforts to continue its mission of service to the needy and the marginalized.
The first thought was that CCVI might be able to use the Catholic Diocese’s retreat house to temporarily house the 21 people who had been staying at Bethlehem House, but “the retreat house is not usable. It’s badly damaged too,” according to Andrea Shillingford, executive director.
After consulting with Bishop Herbert Bevard, she’s hopeful that there may be room at St. Joseph’s parish, but that will require installation of at least a portable bathroom.
Right now it isn’t clear how long it may take to repair Bethlehem House. Even making an assessment of the damage is a challenge because of conditions in the islands.
Shillingford said she asked Nishawn Georges, supervisor for CCVI’s St. Croix district, to make a preliminary assessment.
“She’s in the National Guard and that helps to be able to move around more easily,” Shillingford explained. St. Croix spent several days under a 24-hour curfew and now residents are only allowed out about four hours a day. And Shillingford can’t travel from St. Thomas to St. Croix to view the damage firsthand; the seaplane service that links the two main islands is not operating because its docks were damaged.
There is some good news though. Catholic Charities’ soup kitchen in Christiansted, St. Croix, was damaged somewhat but is usable. Thanks to a propane stove, staffers are able to cook despite the lack of electricity. And it may soon get a small generator.
Shillingford said the Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency (the local counterpart to FEMA) may begin using the soup kitchen as a general assistance distribution site.
On St. Thomas, both the soup kitchen downtown and the Bethlehem House homeless shelter in Hospital Ground are continuing to operate. St. Thomas and St. John were spared the worst of Hurricane Maria, but were devastated by her sister storm, Irma, 12 days before. Both storms were category five hurricanes.
Shillingford is philosophic.
“There’s always a reason for everything,” she said. “If God took us to this, he will take us out of it.”