Coronavirus highlights need for emergency shelter for homeless


To the Editor:

Martha’s Vineyard does not have an emergency response plan that includes housing the homeless. There is no outreach system to residents who are unhoused, no plan to get them to a safe place, provide food, showers and clean clothes, assess their needs, coordinate services with other agencies and monitor their well-being. There is no guaranteed funding for an emergency response to this population and no staff or facility identified to provide shelter.

As of today, there are 11 individuals and one family being sheltered in local hotels and houses.  There are others, however, who are not eligible for a hotel stay. They are still walking the streets and dropping into any open facility to dry out or stay warm. Several of these individuals were housed at the winter shelter that closed prematurely on March 12th because of the coronavirus.  Despite the health risks and miserable weather, there has been no alternative shelter available.

For the past few years, during storms and frigid weather, several homeless individuals and families have benefitted from an informal emergency shelter program that relies heavily on the goodwill of local hotels. Funding for their hotel stays has come from an array of sources, including the Island Clergy Group, county government, mini grants, a one-time state earmark for homeless prevention, the Permanent Endowment of Martha’s Vineyard and a private donor.  Despite this level of support, the emergency housing intervention fails to address the needs of all of our neighbors who are unhoused. The response is neither adequate nor cost effective. Many homeless residents remain outside.

The need for an emergency shelter is well documented. The Houses of Grace winter shelter that operates from Jan. 1 to March 31 has provided two dozen adults with dinner, breakfast and a safe place to sleep for the past four years. The shelter welcomes all adults in need, including those with mental health or substance abuse issues as long as they behave appropriately. There are others, however, adults in recovery, elders, women with trauma histories, and families who look for another option. They are the uncounted homeless on the Island. Typically, they are “couch surfing” among friends or sleeping in vehicles, sheds, garages or basements. For much of the year, many of our neighbors are able to survive in these conditions. To cope with freezing weather, a blizzard or COVID-19, people need a safe, sanitary, heated space with access to running water and food. Martha’s Vineyard does not have an emergency response plan that ensures this is available.

Karen Tewhey
Oak Bluffs

Karen Tewhey is the associate commissioner for homeless prevention for Dukes County.



  1. This isa risk both to the people who are homeless and also the community. What is being done to remedy this? Surely the island and it’s wealth and influence as well as the year round community and social services can come up with solutions. Especially since now people have all the time in the world to put to good use.
    So if someone is homeless living on MV right now, where can they go to get sheltered in place until this Tsunami passes? This cannot be allowed to go unresolved.

  2. Unbelievable This is no place for homeless
    People. Its just not set up for it.if we set up for it there will be more. If you build it they will come. Its just the way it is. Another way to get money and watch it get misused.

    • Misused as in these people are not worth it.

      Do you think that money spent on the homeless is misused?
      Even off Island?
      Is the Island just to good for the homeless?

  3. A lot of people have no clue just how many homeless people and homeless families are on the island year around. Most have no choice they don’t choose to be homeless. I have done my best to help a few of these people over the years but I can only do so much. I work two jobs to support my family as it is and can’t afford to help out any more than I do. To those of you that feel this is no place for the homeless remember your words should you ever fall on hard times. It can happen to anyone at anytime you just never know.

  4. Most of the homeless here are people that
    DON’T want to work and improve there station or they have drug problems that got them there in the first place. Having a good heart doesn’t solve this problem.

      • Interesting paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 13:8. Today is a good time to reflect on that since it is the annual observance of the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. After sundown Christians the world over will be observing that Memorial event.

    • You must be new here.
      I know plenty of ‘Islanders’ from the late 60’s who spent plenty summers homeless.
      Many of them are now the tradesmen that so many Vineyarders have come to know wand love.

    • “Having a good heart doesn’t solve this problem.” Having a hard heart won’t solve it, either.

  5. This morning Trump tweeted “Happy Good Friday”. I’m Jewish, but even I know that’s totally inappropriate and, well, an idiotic thing to say.

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