photo: Laura Bijnsdorp

PHILIPSBURG – Many people are still looking for homes on St. Maarten, after hurricane Irma struck the island in September. But how many, is not clear. Ministry of Public Health, Social Development and Labor (VSA) and the ministry of Public Housing (VROMI) are still gathering information. Initial estimations made by the Red Cross cited that over 14,000 homes in St. Maarten were affected.

“Many families are in the same situation, or worse off than I am”, Patricia Buntin explains. Patricia has been staying at the Dr. J. Crisis Shelter, with her mother and eight-year-old daughter, for about two months now.

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By Laura Bijnsdorp

Their three-bedroom family home was destroyed during hurricane Irma. Patricia: “The first few days we slept in our car. Then we stayed with friends, but they also had many other family members and friends to take care of.” Through mutual acquaintances, Patricia got in contact with the Dr. J. Crisis Shelter, who agreed to take in her and her family.

Crisis Emergency Shelter
The Dr. J. Foundation started the Dr. J. Crisis Shelter in 2015. “Facilities like the Dr. J. Crisis Shelter were needed, even before Irma,” states founder Judith Arndell, who works as a Clinical Psychologist on St. Maarten.

The aim of the Dr. J. Crisis Shelter is to provide temporary housing for families experiencing severe situations such as fire, disasters or extreme predicaments. Judith: “The main reasons why persons end up at our shelter before Irma was due to financial difficulties or family disputes.”

The two-bedroom shelter is equipped with cots, a refrigerator, stove, self-contained bedrooms, living room, equipped kitchen and other facilities. A total of twelve individuals can be accommodated at the shelter. Persons are able to stay in the home for a maximum of six to twelve weeks. Members of the foundation also make sure those at the crisis center receive enough food, clothes, and guidance in budgeting or other skill sets.

Their three-bedroom family home was destroyed during hurricane Irma. Photo: Laura Bijnsdorp

Difficult to move forward
“My mom had been living in the house that we lost for forty years”, says Patricia. Her family home was not insured. With just a few weeks left in the shelter, Patricia is hoping to at least gather enough materials and manpower to repair two rooms of their house.

“It has been difficult to figure out how to move forward. At least the shelter has provided us with some space to pick ourselves up,” explains Patricia, as she expresses how grateful she is. “So many people I know are staying with family, friends, and neighbors. Seven out of the ten houses in my neighborhood were damaged by the storm.”