Harbor Homes proposing new Island shelter

The group will be in front of the Oak Bluffs zoning board in October.

One of the structures at 21 Hudson Ave. —Courtesy of the Town of Oak Bluffs

With this being the last winter for the overnight homeless shelter at Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, Harbor Homes of Martha’s Vineyard is in the process of acquiring a new property. 

The nonprofit will request a special permit from the Oak Bluffs zoning board of appeals to set up a facility at 21 Hudson Ave. in Oak Bluffs. 

The application was filed on Sept. 22, with the hearing date set for Oct. 18. The request is for the zoning board to permit the use of the property as a homeless shelter. 

The nonprofit has entered into a contract to acquire the property at 21 Hudson Ave., in an effort to acquire needed additional space and programming for the Island’s homeless. Officials with Harbor Homes say the sale is contingent upon the zoning board’s approval of the new intended use. 

The property was formerly used as employee housing for the Pequot Hotel and the Harbor View Hotel. 

The existing property has two structures, a two-bedroom, two-bathroom house, and a second, larger, dormitory-style building with six bedrooms. With eight bedrooms total on the property and 4,549 square feet, Harbor Homes estimates being able to house up to 25 people. The building is fully furnished, and in turnkey condition. 

Harbor Homes intends to use the separate two-bedroom, two-bathroom structure to house homeless families, individuals with children, and victims of domestic violence. These residences are not intended to be permanent, but temporary situations while the residents determine more sustainable housing. This residence can accommodate up to six people and will operate year-round. 

No other homeless shelter on the Island is currently suitable for families with children, according to the special permit application. 

The six-bedroom residence is in a dormitory configuration, and will be used as a winter overnight shelter (6 pm to 8 am), and can house up to 19 people. Harbor Homes expects it to be operational from Nov. 1 to April 20. Winter programming for this residence will be similar to those offered at the MVCS shelter, and will include two basic meals a day. Over the summer months, from May through October, the residence will be rented out to an Island business or nonprofit organization to provide staff housing. 

Harbor Homes will not be able to continue operating its winter shelter from the Martha’s Vineyard Community Services (MVCS) building, which they currently rent, after winter 2023–24. The building they are renting is set to be torn down for necessary expansions for Community Services, according to the president of the board of Harbor Homes, Jennifer Frank. The 21 Hudson Ave. property is intended to replace the shelter space for Harbor Homes, which accommodates only 20 people. 

Frank told The Times they have an agreement with Community Services to continue using the existing shelter for this upcoming winter. 

“There has never been a permanent shelter on the Island,” said Frank. “That’s why this is a great opportunity for us.” 

Per the application for special permit hearing, submitted on behalf of Harbor Homes by Johanna W. Schneider of Hemenway and Barnes LLC, “there are scores of homeless individuals and families on Martha’s Vineyard, largely attributable to the lack of affordable housing opportunities on the Island.” 

“Demand for the services offered by these facilities far outpaces available rooms and services,” writes Schneider in the application, “and moreover, none of these facilities can serve families with children.”

There are approximately 125 people on the Island who are homeless or living in substandard conditions, Frank shared. Harbor Homes, with its two housing facilities, MVCS homeless shelter, and hotel respite program, is able to help about 50 individuals. 

According to the submitted application, Schneider writes, “The Island’s housing crisis has a particularly serious impact on individuals with incomes at or below 30 percent of the median family income for Dukes County and who are considered too ‘poor’ for affordable housing.” 

According to census.gov, the median household income in Dukes County in 2021 was $77,392. Thirty percent of that is an income of about $23,000 per year. In 2021, about 7 percent of Dukes County residents were estimated to be in poverty, per census.gov

The two existing facilities that Harbor Homes runs include the Tashmoo House, a six-bedroom residence that provides life skills for adults who were formerly homeless or are at imminent risk of becoming homeless, and New York Ave. House, an all-women’s six-bedroom residence with similar programming.

Though Harbor Homes received a multi-year grant from the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development for $257,488 per year for about 10 years ($2.6 million total), that money can only cover operational costs of running the shelter, according to Frank. 

The money for the asking $2,950,000 purchase price of 21 Hudson Ave. came from a combination of funds on hand from donations, as well as a $200,000 bridge loan from the Island Housing Trust. Frank shared that five out of the six Island towns contributed about $340,000 to the purchase. Edgartown declined donating to the fund. Frank said the town had given money in years past, but had not donated in recent years. 

“They said they would give us money if the shelter was in Edgartown, even though we have shared with them that we are serving the entire Island with our shelter,” said Frank. 

After returning the $200,000 loan to the Island Housing Trust, Frank estimated $140,000 would be left over to go toward the mortgage. As for the rest, “We will have a lot of fundraising to do. We are negotiating with three different banks,” said Frank.


  1. I am disturbed to read that Edgartown where I am a seasonal resident and homeowner will not contribute to this very worthwhile endeavor. I would hope that the town will publicly explain why he chooses not to participate. There is bus service from Edgartown to Oak Bluffs Massachusetts through out the day and throughout all seasons; there is no obvious reason to me why Edgartown should not participate in the funding.

  2. The old saying that anything that’s subsidized increases has been proven true by Harbor Homes. Just a few years ago they were saying we need to find a shelter for 8-12 homeless people and after they were provided 2 locations now it’s grown to 125. Couldn’t be a worse location. Why not split the $2.8 million amongst the 125 people and give them $26K each and a boat ticket. What happens to the workers who lived there? Will they now be homeless?

  3. John- given that winter is coming, I am in total agreement with you about the boat ticket. And a free round trip bus ticket to Palm Beach Florida ( return in April) for those who are well informed and are aware that they may be harassed or spit on by the nice people there when they arrive

  4. Not all of the homeless here can just pick up and leave. There are families that are homeless.
    They have jobs and money just no housing available. Their lives and families are here their kids are in school along with their friends. It’s not as simple as just moving away. They do what they have to do to survive even if it means living in a tent durning the winter and hope and pray the day will come when they can find housing.

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