Measuring our Island by how we treat the least fortunate 


There is a hidden trend on the Vineyard that the public and advocates worry is growing more troubling.

We reported last week on an increasing population of people experiencing homelessness on the Island, with some taking up shelter in tents in the State Forest, as well as in other areas scattered around the Island. 

Establishing an actual size of the unhoused population is seemingly impossible. Police believe there are at least 20 individuals living in encampments in the State Forest. Officials with the Island’s homeless shelter — open only in the off-season — counted more than 30 individuals who stayed in their facility this past winter. None of these estimates include the residents and workers who are bouncing from house to house, sleeping in their cars, or those who are forced to cram into single-family homes.

As our headline noted, and as several residents commented, the encampments and the homeless themselves are out of sight and out of mind. But that’s becoming less the case.

Whether they are seen or unseen, there is a very real homeless population living on the Island, with Islanders who are seemingly forgotten, and subjected to the elements — tick bites; hot weather; lack of services, like water, electricity, medicine, and internet. Not to mention dignity. Some are longtime Island seniors whose housing has fallen through, or service workers who come to the Island for work. 

Our reporter Hayley Duffy did some good old-fashioned, shoe-leather reporting by hiking into the woods to give voice to one of the Island’s homeless people. 

As she reported, Jonathan Scoggins’ story is just one narrative of the complex equation and fractured shards of a life amid an era of historic inequity on the Island, and a crisis in affordable housing that has reached unconscionable levels on an Island with so much wealth and prosperity. We believe it is time for all of us to come together to make a difference. 

There are important efforts to do that underway, including the Island relief group, Harbor Homes. In response to the growing number of people facing seasonal homelessness and the closing of the winter homeless shelter, Harbor Homes has pulled together a network of community groups in an initiative to offer food, medical care, and mental health counseling services. This is an outstanding and much-needed effort at outreach, and hopefully one that will sustain itself. But we need to do more, and we can do more as an Island to get at the root of the problem, which is to address head-on the issue of affordable housing. 

In words of wisdom shared in a comment on our story by public defender Cass Luskin, “We are all measured by how we treat those least fortunate.”


  1. The real number I bet is close too 1,000. Every person living in a shed, a car a tent or an unfinished basement with no running water is homeless

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