Long-term solution needed for homeless population

To the Editor:

As autumn arrives on Martha’s Vineyard and we feel the temperatures slowly drop, we begin to think about the colder months ahead.

At Martha’s Vineyard Hospital (MVH), we continue our strict focus on the pandemic and the new challenges that the winter will bring, along with the seasonal flu.

For those of us fortunate enough to stay healthy and safe, we turn to our home for security and comfort, particularly this time of year. But we know that not everyone has these same vital protections. There are families and individuals in our community who are living without a permanent place to call home.

With a lack of affordable housing on our beautiful Island, there are few places to turn.

One beacon of hope has been the Martha’s Vineyard Homelessness Prevention Network, but when COVID-19 struck, the warming center and night shelter had to close, due to the many challenges of trying to prevent the spread of the virus.

The time to act is now. MVH and our Island health partners developed a plan. The first step was financial support, and last week I was pleased to announce the hospital approved a grant to subsidize stipends for staff, and cover the cost of renting space and the purchasing of necessary supplies and services, including personal protective equipment (PPE). Dukes County will act as a fiscal agent for the grant, and staff from Harbor Homes of Martha’s Vineyard will manage the operation with help from Houses of Grace coordinators. The shelter will operate between Nov. 1, 2020, and March 31, 2021.

Addressing a time-sensitive concern is when we, the Martha’s Vineyard community, are at our best. Coming together, to care for one another, to wrap our arms around the most vulnerable among us.

The grant of $150,000, though, is just the beginning; we need more than a one-year fix.

These monies do not address the underlying issue of creating a sustainable plan, and that includes housing that is available and affordable. This is merely a bandage covering a critical wound.

At its heart, homelessness is a public health issue. In its roots exist comorbidity that threatens the health of precious lives. Whether it is depression, mental health, addiction, or loneliness, all these human conditions, when not addressed, present a plague for those fighting to survive.

Now is the time to consider our long-term plan.

How do we do that? The answer is clear — with the backing and support of our entire Island community. We will need more money; we will look for leadership; we will share resources; we must move forward together.

We can do this.

Denise Schepici, president and CEO
Martha’s Vineyard Hospital