Last year, the homeless count in Dukes County found 119 homeless people, the highest in recent memory. But this year the annual measurement of the homeless population on a single night in January came and went with no count recorded.
Unfortunately, not everyone has the opportunity to enjoy winter at arm’s length. As reported in the last edition of the Gazette, there are approximately one hundred and sixty homeless people on the Vineyard.
They are the Island's most vulnerable but invisible population. And with an inadequate safety net for the homeless, members of the clergy and county administration are calling for an Islandwide response.
Like most Vineyarders, Connie Teixeira had not given much thought to the specter of homelessness on the Island. Then, this year, she found herself looking the reality of it in the face, day after day at the Tisbury Senior Center.
“We have a gentleman who comes and spends most of the day at the senior center, he has lunch in the senior program, and then he goes to the library until it closes, and from there he goes to wherever he can find a place to sleep, and stays there until they find out he’s there and they put him out,” she said.
The United Nations has designated the first Monday in October of each year as World Habitat Day. This is a day to reflect on the state of our towns and cities and the basic right to adequate shelter for all. It is also intended to remind all of us of our collective responsibility for the future of the human habitat.
Each year, more than three million people experience homelessness. Millions of low-income American households have to pay more than 50 per cent of their income for rent when estimates say the figure should be no more than 30 per cent.
Sitting among the other people using the computers at the Vineyard Haven library on a bleak, icy day this week, Jon and Rick blend right in. The only hints of their difference are a couple of small piles of possessions nearby.
These men are homeless, and for them, the primary purpose of coming here is not research or reading, but warmth.
It would no doubt come as a surprise to the other Vineyarders tapping away at adjacent terminals to know this. It might even surprise them that homelessness exists on the Island.
The good news for the Vineyard economy is that in the first three months of this year banks loaned some $240 million for new mortgages, well above the numbers for the previous two recession years.
Even better, said Chris Wells, president and chief executive officer of the Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank, most of that was for new purchases rather than refinancing of existing loans, the biggest part of the mortgage business during the downturn.