"The Road to Family Economic Success" was the call to action at Governor John P. de Jongh’s Summit on Poverty and Economic Opportunity which was convened at the Carambola Resort on St. Croix on Friday, May 8th. The Summit was presented in collaboration with the National Governor’s Association and Governor de Jongh’s Children and Families Council.
Tom Bolt, Managing Attorney of Tom Bolt & Associates, P.C., the leading business law firm in the United States Virgin Islands, was a panelist in the Summit’s discussion on housing. Bolt currently serves as President for Habitat for Humanity of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Chair of the Territory’s Salvation Army Advisory Board, and Counsel to the Virgin Islands Territorial Association of Realtors.
After welcoming remarks from Governor de Jongh and First Lady Cecile de Jongh, the Governor outlined his Call to Action to the more than 100 participants. Judith Richardson, Director of Kid’s Count USVI, kicked off the Summit citing that over one third of the Territory’s children were living in poverty. Richardson said that "it will take a plan" to address this crisis.
Jodie Levin Epstein, Deputy Director of the Washington, D.C. Center for Law and Social Policy, echoed Ms. Richardson’s sentiments saying that the community need to "set goals and targets in your quest to eliminate poverty and open the door to economic opportunity."
Bolt agreed with the opening speakers as he addressed the Summit on housing. "We must set targets and goals. In doing so, let us establish our own ‘Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness’ in the Territory. This has been an effective tool utilized thoughout the United States in eliminating homelessness."
Bolt cited two targets for the Territory’s plan to promote housing. The first target would be to identify the "frequent flyers", the persons that are most at risk for homelessness and that utilize government services in our hospitals, our human services and our jails. "Once identified, we should form homeless outreach teams, that can address issues of concern to the frequent flyers in addition to housing, such as employment, health and basic supportive services."
Another target that Bolt addressed in his presentation was housing itself. "The Virgin Islands Housing Authority is the 800 pound gorilla in the room. VIHA has over 1,000 units of vacant housing. Certainly, we should be working with VIHA to bring these units back on line. In addition to VIHA, we should also look at the 1000’s of abandoned homes in our communities. Look at Christiansted, Frederiksted and Charlotte Amalie. Let’s put these private properties back into the market." Bolt cited the 2008 United States Conference of Mayor’s Survey and Best Practices on Abandoned Properties as an example of what other communities had done to bring vacant housing back into the market.
In addition to housing, the Summit also addressed issues including adult education and employment, stengthening families, work supports and safety net programs, income and asset building and health. It is the intent of the Summit to continue the dialogue initiated at the one day conference and that the Governor’s Children and Families Council would issue a report with recommendations to assist the Virgin Islands community down the "Road to Family Economic Success."