Government budgets are flexible. We often hear about funds that were designated for a specific purpose being reprogrammed. Many projects never come to fruition and money that is often left over is funneled to other areas.
Carnival funding is a specific area where we know the funds have not been spent. COVID caused the cancellation of Carnival events on all three islands last year. This year’s Carnival in April was cancelled, and it’s more likely to be the same result for the St. John Festival in July, and possibly the Crucian Christmas Festival, which kicks off in December.
This means we have hundreds of thousands of dollars that are normally spent by the government on Carnival/Festivals basically sitting in the unused portion of the budget. So, in this particular area, some thoughtful reprogramming needs to be considered.
Is it possible for these funds to be the seed money to start an outreach program for our mentally ill, homeless population? The crisis has gotten so bad that presently we can identify two gentlemen who are living in wheelchairs on St. Thomas, and others on all the islands, in very desperate conditions.
We could dub this effort “The Virgin Islands Humanitarian Project,” with a goal that in five years, we will have found suitable housing and care for those who have none. This effort could see teams of two professionals — a social worker and a mental health professional — assessing various individuals who are on the streets in the Virgin Islands. The goal would be to see that they have placement and housing with a support team able to tend to their needs medically, physically and emotionally.
The Virgin Islands is a small community. Unlike big cities, our caseload is doable. Perhaps our government officials can look at other areas in our budget where monies may be lying unused, to be reprogrammed. With the excess federal money that has come into the territory due to the hurricanes and COVID, our resources need to be re-examined so we can move forward to better the lives of our community members who need us.
— Maria Ferreras is a longtime St. Thomas resident and community volunteer. She can be reached at email@example.com.