One of the positive ironies of the Covid era is the way it has cast a spotlight on Martha’s Vineyard’s homeless problem.

Unfathomable though it may seem on an Island of multi-million-dollar summer houses, there has always been a segment of the population who, for reasons of poverty, addiction or mental illness — and often all three — have no permanent address. They sleep on floors and in cars, live in shacks or in the woods. In years past, several have died for lack of shelter from the cold.

Because there are some wonderful people in the world, many of the chronically homeless manage to find food, clothing and other necessities to get by. But until a faith-based network of volunteers called the Houses of Grace sprung up five years ago, there was no organized program on the Island offering warm meals and shelter in the winter.

Now health restrictions and concerns about coronavirus contagion have disrupted that critical network. Volunteers, often elderly, cannot take the risk of infection, and churches don’t have the space to safely accommodate as many as 15 men and women a night.

Much credit goes to Denise Schepici, president and chief executive at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, for raising the alarm last week at a hospital briefing. This week, she announced the hospital had pledged $150,000 toward dealing with the Island’s homelessness issue. Individuals have also stepped up to offer financial assistance. Those interested in helping in this effort should contact

Money is a great start, but the bigger challenge may be creating a permanent structure for dealing in a coordinated way with homelessness on the Island.

Through a patchwork of grants and donations, Dukes County briefly funded a part-time homeless coordinator, Karen Tewhey, but the funds eventually ran out. Separately, the Cape-based Housing Assistance Corporation hired Rebecca Jamieson using United Way funds to address the Island’s homeless issue, but once again the funding was limited.

Ms. Tewhey and Ms. Jamieson are now working for Harbor Homes, a related new nonprofit that provides congregate housing for up to six homeless men and hopes to open a women’s house soon. However, that program cannot accommodate people with mental health and addiction issues.

Because they care, they and others deal on an ad hoc basis with finding emergency housing for people who are homeless — women who need protection, families facing eviction, aging people who are waiting for scarce openings in elderly housing. Homelessness, it seems, comes in many forms.

What seems clear is that the Island needs a single, consistent point of coordination for the needs of the homeless — not just for the chronically homeless, but also the temporarily homeless, a population that seems destined to grow larger in the future. Perhaps this is something Harbor Homes could take on with additional resources; perhaps it belongs with another Island agency. Wherever it is located, this function must be supported by a reliable source of ongoing funding.

It is gratifying to see the issue of homelessness on the Island getting the attention it deserves at last, but it is not one that will be solved by a one-time infusion of funds. Only a long-term commitment will ensure that an Island with a reputation for lavish summer homes doesn’t neglect those who have no home at all.