A five-month-old Island homeless housing coalition was awarded an $83,000 grant from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) this month, which will allow it to look for a permanent facility for homeless Island residents.
Karen Tewhey, an Island-based counselor for Homeless Assistance Corp. (HAC), a Hyannis-based nonprofit, told The Times this week that they will “use the money to establish supportive and permanent housing for adult Island residents — probably men to begin with — and to provide for a house manager at the facility.” Since its formation in June, the coalition has raised more than $103,000 in grant money to support housing for the homeless.
Ms. Tewhey said the search for a building is underway, and that HAC will disperse the funds and sign the lease when a location has been identified. “We’re hoping to lease a facility in 2017,” she said. “The grant stipulates that the project must be underway during the 2017 calendar year.”
“This $83,000 grant is the first HUD grant to go to Martha’s Vineyard. Most of these grants have historically gone to Cape-based agencies,” she said. “The Island hasn’t gotten funding for multiple years. Our proposal was the only new project submitted.” In its announcement of grants, a HUD spokesman said that it was seeking new proposals from locally based groups. This month, as part of its Continuum in Care initiative, HUD dispensed $69 million in grants to combat homelessness in Massachusetts.
The HAC-led coalition has also received funds from the United Way to put toward emergency housing during the winter months, and has another proposal submitted to the United Way to fund a case manager at the new facility. “The caseworker would help residents find employment, job training, and education, as well as medical and mental health services,” Ms. Tewhey said.
The Island coalition has identified about 80 people in 2016 who are homeless or in near-term danger (60 to 90 days) of becoming homeless. The facility is designed to provide transitional shelter for the chronically homeless and for individuals and families who become homeless unexpectedly, providing shelter while they seek permanent housing.
Ms. Tewhey estimated that about half the residents in the proposed facility would be employed, and they would be expected to pay rent commensurate with their earnings. Those receiving food stamps would be asked to help provide food for the community, and residents would be expected to participate in cleaning and maintenance of the facility, she said.
“These are people who have Island roots or are longterm Island residents who are homeless or at risk, including people whose rental homes have been sold and are couch surfing. We also work with families who’ve been split up; the kids [are] staying with friends, sometimes their parents are living in a car. Some [situations] result from divorce or domestic issues. Other people have long histories of employment and have lost their housing. They are willing and able to rent, but no rentals are available,” she said.
Ms. Tewhey coordinates the efforts of the Island advisory group under the HAC umbrella. The group includes private citizens, businessmen, and representatives from organizations with long experience in housing issues. The members include the All-Island Clergy Association, a group that opened two churches to homeless last winter; the Island Housing Trust (IHT); the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority (DCRHA); Dukes County manager Martina Thornton; Dean Rosenthal, Dukes County associate commissioner on the homeless; caseworker Esther Laiacona; businessmen Les Holcomb and Peter Vincent; and the United Way of the Cape and Islands in Hyannis. The coalition, Ms. Tewhey said this week, will soon be joined by several other community members and town officials. The group meets monthly at the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority in Vineyard Haven.
Ms. Tewhey is a career professional in homeless advocacy. She praised the work of the Island coalition. “They have been incredibly effective at moving initiatives forward as quickly as they can,” she said. “The All-Island Clergy Association has been very involved in the design of the housing proposal. They feel it’s part of their mission on the Island to provide a supportive community for the homeless.”