State Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro, secured $200,000 for housing and homelessness initiatives on Martha’s Vineyard.
Cyr unveiled the funding Saturday at the Dukes County offices with several town officials, affordable housing stakeholders, and clergy members who have been involved in providing homeless and warming shelters on the Island.
Cyr said the Island does not have accurate homeless and housing-insecure counts.
The Senate took up a supplemental $700 million budget to close out FY19 — one of the largest the state has ever had — and Cyr said he was able to secure funding for the Island in part due to a surplus in the state budget.
With these funds, which Cyr said will be available for this winter, a better idea of Island homelessness can be established, and a plan to address it can be implemented.
“We have a real crisis on Martha’s Vineyard when it comes to housing,” Cyr said. “We have a real estate market that’s largely driven by second-, third-, and fourth-home ownership, and it’s really kind of fundamentally changed how people make their lives in a community here.”
One-quarter of the funding — $50,000 — will go to Dukes County to serve homeless and housing-insecure residents, and hire or contract for a homeless-prevention case manager. County manager Martina Thornton thanked Cyr for his efforts, and added that the funds will be available to the many warming shelters on-Island.
“We are really, really excited about this opportunity. We were facing a serious crisis this winter with having limited funding for the homelessness-prevention coordinator, Karen Tewhey,” Thornton said. “This was looking at a real crisis in people’s lives.”
The other $150,000 will go to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) to conduct a housing and homelessness study for the entire Island.The study will identify housing needs by town, study wastewater capacity by basin and by town, and look at how much it will cost to meet each town’s housing needs. The MVC will collaborate with the county, the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority, the Martha’s Vineyard Network on Homeless Prevention, and the Island Housing Trust to develop the plan.
MVC executive director Adam Turner said it is difficult for stakeholders and elected officials to make decisions for projects “on the table,” and that having guidelines to reference would make those decisions easier.
“This is funding to look at solutions,” Turner said. “We thought that while there was nothing on the table, that we could look at what the solutions might be, so that when these projects came in, we had already thought about it, we had already discussed it.”
The housing and homeless plans will help gather data that can be used to make a stronger case for funding and resources from the state in the future.
“I really hope that we’re able to, yes, stem the crisis and get people some support in these cold winter months, but also be really smart about how we’re planning, and provide real tools to each of the towns and to the Island as a whole,” Cyr said.
Island Housing Trust board president Doug Ruskin said planning around the wastewater issue will make a huge difference: “Having some planning started on this to kind of normalize the process will make our lives easier on the development side.”
Each year Tewhey, who could not attend Saturday’s meeting, and the clergy coordinate a count of homeless on the Island. Those numbers are being used for the state and grant funding. According to Tewhey, about 100 people are chronically homeless or living in substandard conditions year-round on Martha’s Vineyard, but that number could be larger.
“I’m confident we have, between all the voices on-Island, the stakeholders, the means by which we can figure out really the full nature of the problem, decide what that is, and then use the money to move forward to decide how we’re going to tackle that,” Father Chip Deadale of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church said.