Grant paves way for safe shelters

Hospital provides $150,000 to help operate homeless shelters this winter.

Martha's Vineyard Hospital provides funding for homeless shelter. - Kyra Steck

Updated Oct. 6.

The Martha’s Vineyard Hospital has approved a $150,000 grant to provide support for Island families and individuals who do not have a permanent home through a night shelter and warming center, according to a release from the hospital.

The grant will be managed by Harbor Homes of Martha’s Vineyard, with support from House of Grace coordinators. Dukes County will act as fiscal agent for the grant.

The shelter will operate between Nov. 1, 2020, and March 31, 2021.

“We see this as an extension of the ways in which we provide care to our community. By partnering with our Island organizations, we believe that we are collectively giving those without a place to call home a better opportunity to care for their health,” hospital CEO Denise Schepici said in the release.

The grant will subsidize stipends for staff, cost of renting space, and the purchasing of necessary supplies and services, such as personal protective equipment (PPE).

Last week Schepici said she was working with the Dukes County Health Council to reopen Island warming and overnight shelters. The coronavirus pandemic has made it difficult to reopen shelters.

In the release, Schepici added, “This is a perfect example of community collaboration, which makes Martha’s Vineyard so special. We always look out for one another.”

In follow-up interviews on Friday, homeless advocates said the coronavirus pandemic has made it difficult to safely open homeless shelters.

Island churches that usually provide shelter are uncertain whether they will be able to open their doors to those in need this winter. St Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Edgartown, for example, is still waiting on directions from its administrative boards on whether or not, and in which capacity, they can provide shelter to the homeless, according to the Rev. Chip Seadale. 

The hospital grant will be managed by Harbor Homes of Martha’s Vineyard, with the support of Houses of Grace, which will help train staff, and Dukes County, which will act as fiscal agent. 

The grant will help pay for rent, staff, and any necessary personal protective equipment. Due to coronavirus concerns and the need to avoid large groups of people, the new emergency shelter system is looking for four different mini-shelter sites that could each house up to five individuals. 

Karen Tewhey, executive director of Harbor Homes, explained that the emergency shelter system will have two components. The first will involve identifying and running four mini-shelter sites that will house up to five individuals each. Each site will have two staff per shift, as well as available medical consultation to follow COVID-19 safety standards and provide testing. Weekly janitorial services will be provided, and a social worker will be available to provide support to residents. While the priority will be to provide shelter from 7 pm to 9 am, seven days a week, Tewhey hopes they will also be able to provide some warming time for a few hours during the day, whether it be at the same mini-shelters, or another site.

The second component is providing hotel rooms for some individuals, starting with those who are “medically fragile.”

Locating the four shelter sites is the first and most pressing task that needs to be completed. 

Beyond the auspicious news this grant brings for homeless shelters this winter, the grant also paves the way for permanent homeless shelter on the Island. “One of the very positive things that has happened now that the hospital has stepped into this and taken a lead role is legitimizing the need for shelter,” Tewhey said. “Now we are talking not just about [shelter] in the short term, clearly keeping people safe over the winter, but there is also a conversation about having a permanent, institutionalized shelter on the Island in the future. We know that this is a need, and it is good for the whole community.” 

On Friday, Schepici agreed there is a need for a permanent program. She said the hospital was looking for someone to write a long-term grant proposal for such a program. Schepici explained that the main issue wasn’t securing funds, which can always be found with sufficient and effective fundraising, but creating community support for the project.

“My hope would be to see this be picked up by and institutionalized by those who know how to run homeless shelters and homeless programs,” Schepici said. “I think we have some people galvanizing around that, and that is what we need to do; we’ve got to make this permanent.” 

Intern David Steiner contributed to this story. Updated to include more details.