State budget cuts have resulted in the elimination of a part-time housing counselor for the coming year. Advocates for the homeless say the position has been critical in addressing the unique problems around housing security on the Island.

The 20-hour-per-week position held by Karen Tewhey was eliminated as of July 1, the start of the fiscal year.

Ms. Tewhey had provided intake and assessment services for families in need, as well as referrals to more comprehensive services for chronically homeless individuals. Funding for the position came from the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development.

Laura Reckford, community development director for the Hyannis-based Housing Assistance Corporation, a private nonprofit agency which administered the housing counselor position for the past two years, is hopeful a new $25,000 grant from the United Way will make up for the loss of state funding. “Because we were unsure of state funding for the last two years, we’ve been applying for additional grants,” Ms. Reckford said this week. “As far as we’re concerned, the position has not been eliminated.”

But advocates say the program will serve fewer people and fall far short of meeting a growing need.

“In the case of the emergency homeless, now there’s no point person” said the Rev. Cathlin Baker of the First Congregational Church of West Tisbury, one of a group of Island clergy who help advocate and coordinate services for local homeless families. “It’s a setback. This was where people would go in crisis. Where will those people go now?” she said.

Instead, families may be referred to off-Island agencies, a system that has proven a barrier to effective service in the past, Reverend Baker said.

Ms. Tewhey was handling about five new cases weekly, about 120 cases since 2016, according to the Martha’s Vineyard Network of Homeless Prevention, an advocacy group.
The Rev. Vincent G. (Chip) Seadale of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Edgartown, who coordinates a church-based homeless shelter program in the winter months, said there is no question elimination of the position will affect services to Island families who are in desperate need.

Father Seadale said when he encountered a person in need, “I would almost automatically pick up the phone and call Karen . . . She is the one who has the experience. She has really developed a presence on the Island.”

He acknowledged the pitfalls of depending on state funding to support services to homeless families.

“If I could make one plea, it’s that we really need an Island-funded position doing what Karen was doing,” Father Seadale said. “The Island needs a social worker in this area. It always comes down to, if we depend on funding from off-Island, they’re not going get it. We’re going to try very hard to figure out another way to do this. We’re going to have to figure out what is our next move.”