Housing crisis from children’s point of view

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To the Editor:

Have you ever wondered how the housing issue on Martha’s Vineyard has affected children? Every year, Martha’s Vineyard acquires about 39,000 seasonal vacationers; the population of year-round residents is 16,000, according to the 2010 census. That’s more than double the population of year-round residents. We are eighth grade students from the Oak Bluffs School; our names are Penelope Long and Hannah Murphy. We are working on a service learning project at school focused on how the housing crisis on Martha’s Vineyard affects students. A service learning project is a project-based learning activity that impacts the community with three pillars: citizen apprenticeship, academic integrity, and student ownership. We chose this project for different reasons. One of us knew we could relate to the problem. The other had not realized what an issue housing was on the island, and we both wanted to learn more about the topic and try to help. 

Over the past few months, starting in February, Karen Tewhey from Homeless Prevention MV came to meet with us and discuss this hot topic occuring on Martha’s Vineyard. After learning more about the crisis with Mrs. Tewhey, we became very invested. We attended the Edgartown town meeting on April 9 to hear the thoughts of the town residents on the proposed Housing Bank. We developed the idea of interviewing students on how their lives were affected by the Martha’s Vineyard housing crisis. We developed an anonymous survey to determine how the crisis affected their lives. We sent the survey out to grades 5 through 8 at the Oak Bluffs School. 

With a total of 147 responses, about 27.2 percent of students’ families struggled to find housing on the Vineyard. We understand how sensitive this topic is, so we asked for permission to use responses even though they were anonymous. Many of the students who have had struggles did not allow us to use their responses; we found this shocking but we understood that the students were very upset. Numerous students said that their issues with housing affected their schoolwork and stressed them out. One student said they struggled with having to move every six to nine months. The responses we received from students varied from housing conditions to how they felt.
We were shocked to find out some of the conditions of housing on the Vineyard. For example, one student said, “I lived in a cold basement.” Another responded with, “Out of my 13 years that I lived on this Island, I had to move more than eight times, so it was interfering with my school life.” We were appalled to hear this response, because we felt that if the crisis is affecting the students’ ability to learn, it must be solved. 

We also asked how students’ friendships were affected by the housing crisis. About 40 percent of students said their friends had to move away and they lost touch with some of their closest friends. As we read these responses, we were sad to hear how this affected students’ lives. One student responded to the question with, “It took away someone who I could count on to be there for and with me through everything,” This response is heart-wrenching. The housing crisis is taking away people’s friendships. It is forcing people to say goodbye to people they love. Another student response was, “It was the worst day of my life, and I was crying for three days.” 

After learning about the topic, we felt sad and ashamed for not realizing how badly this affected our own peers. We see this project as an opportunity to inform the public on the issues that students face finding housing on the Vineyard. We hope that the adults on Martha’s Vineyard take responsibility and solve the housing crisis on the Island. 

Penelope Long and Hannah Murphy
Oak Bluffs School