As of the end of October, there were 65 fewer households on the waiting list for rental assistance on Martha’s Vineyard than there were in June.
On the face of it, that might seem like good news, or at least less grim news. But it’s not really, says Peter Temple, executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Donors Collaborative.
It’s bad news, for two reasons. The first is that there still are 101 qualifying households in the line, compared with 87 now receiving help.
The second is that most of the 65 who dropped off were forced to leave the Island.
The focus on the Island Affordable Housing Fund’s recent default on its rental assistance payments, Mr. Temple said, amounted to a focus on just the tip of the mostly hidden, recession-induced hardship on the Vineyard.
And in the most recent letter from the donors collaborative, a fuller picture of the problem emerges, neatly presented in a string of statistics:
There were 72 per cent more people unemployed this past summer than the previous one, and the unemployment rate continues to rise. Unemployment was higher this summer than in the winter of 2008.
Seventy per cent more people received counseling at the Island Counseling center than they did three years ago. There was a 22 per cent increase in the number of people going to Connect to End Violence, the domestic and sexual abuse center, this October compared with last.
And the number of homeless people rose some 500 per cent compared with the historical average.
Yet, while need was up, the means of delivery was down. Sixty-nine per cent of health and human services agencies on Island saw demand increase, 31 per cent of them saw it up greatly.
But 46 per cent of those same agencies expect to run a deficit this year, and 38 per cent expect also to run a deficit next year.
“Take Community Services for example,” Mr. Temple said. “They have operated at a deficit for the past two years. And they basically have run out of reserves. They have to break even in 2010. They can’t go on losing money.”
Sure, people had risen to the aid of some agencies, he said, like the Island Food Pantry.
“But if you look at some of the other health and human services agencies, almost half of them are operating at a deficit, even while they have an increased demand for services. They’re having to cut back on services.
“It may be that some needs are more obvious than others, or easier to fulfill,” he said. “I don’t think people are generally aware of how many folks are at risk, are that close to the line.
“The donors collaborative is trying to make people aware of the need.”
Statistics like his help make the point. But so do anecdotes, and those come freely from Connie Teixeira, associate county commissioner for the homeless, who admits to losing a lot of sleep recently, as the nights grow colder and the numbers of people homeless or at risk mount.
Historically, there have been only two or three of them. Now there are somewhere between 12 and 17, she reckons.
Of those, she said, maybe 70 or 80 per cent had substance abuse or mental health problems, for whom there is little in the way of help on the Island. They need to go off Island and get clean, stay off a while and when they come back, “not mix with the same people who helped them get into the addiction in the first place,” she said.
But increasingly, they are a different category of people.
“What’s coming up now is families who worked, were responsible and now are being displaced,” she said. “There’s no work in construction, restaurants that were open last year are closing their doors because there’s no patronage. And people are getting laid off and can’t make their rent.
“There was one family this week. And one other family we were able to save. Last week we got three people off the street. A mother took in her daughter and her girlfriend and boyfriend.
“But next week there are going to be four families, all down at Morgan Woods, who are set to be evicted.”
So, what can be done?
“What we need to do is get the landlords over there to be a little more tolerant, especially in the winter.”
Beyond that, though, she is frankly at a bit of a loss.
“I try to divide myself between six agencies or more: Island Affordable Housing, Elder Housing, the Island Counseling Center, the jail, the Housing Trust and every other agency that does affordable housing.
“It’s hard because I’m running out of the money I raised last year for the homeless.
“We have to have a mechanism by which we can house people. We have the offer of a place that’s going to cost $1,660 a month, for a one-year lease,” she said.
But right now, she has no way to pay for it.
In the absence of other places to live, people, she hears, make do in all sorts of places. She’s heard of people squatting in a summer home, without power or heat, of people camping in a tent in the state forest.
But even she doesn’t really know.
“When there was the bench down outside Cumberland Farms, it was easier to keep track,” she said. “Now the bench is gone and so have the people.”
The hope of Ms. Teixeira, Mr. Temple, and all those associated with the various charities catering to the recession’s victims, is that things get better and donations pick up.
And there also is hope that something will come of a meeting tomorrow with representatives of the Community Action Committee of Cape Cod and the Islands (CACCI).
David Vigneault, executive director of the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority, takes up the story.
“It’s taken us far too long to get them to come out here,” he said. “We’ve invited them to a number of times. They couldn’t make it over the last number of months.”
He is critical of CACCI for pulling services out of the Vineyard in the past and for being reluctant to reinstate them, in the face of the considerable need here now.
“They had a caseworker who was on the Island until October ‘07, and a transitional apartment program which worked very well for years, but the last of two transitional apartments was stopped in January ‘08,” he said.
“But my understanding is they’re coming out [to today’s meeting] bearing some gifts in response to our requests, and we’re looking forward to that.
“My understanding is they’ve agreed to put a caseworker back out here twice a month and .. a percentage of a recent stimulus grant allotment to the Cape and Islands also is being made available to us. I heard 10 per cent, $15,000.
“That would be a good start.”
It might at least help make the rent on that apartment.