The Old Whaling Church in Edgartown has been secured as a temporary winter shelter for homeless individuals, Martha’s Vineyard Hospital officials announced Wednesday, capping a months-long, multi-agency scramble to find a Covid-safe shelter facility in the wake of the pandemic.

At a press briefing Wednesday morning, hospital president and CEO Denise Schepici said Harbor Homes of Martha’s Vineyard — the Island’s homelessness advocacy organization — had partnered with the Whaling Church to secure the space, easing concerns that that Island’s small but increasingly fragile homeless population would have a warm place to stay this offseason.

Houses of Grace — the Island’s only winter shelter program — was forced to shut down due to the pandemic last year, leaving the approximately two dozen homeless individuals who rely on a patchwork of churches for winter shelter in limbo.

In an email to the Gazette Wednesday Karen Tewhey, executive director of Harbor Homes, said no lease had been signed yet for the use of the church. “Still looking into our options. We are looking for overnight staff to start up the program,” Ms. Tewhey wrote.

But Edgartown town administrator James Hagerty knew about the plan and said he had suggested suggested the use of the church to homelessness advocates after other options, like the town’s council on aging building, proved complicated.

Speaking to the Gazette by phone Wednesday, Mr. Hagerty said the use of the church as a shelter does not need any specific town approvals, but that it likely has to follow existing board of health regulations.

The church is owned by the nonprofit Vineyard Trust. Vineyard Trust executive director Funi Burdick was out of the office Wednesday and not immediately available for comment.

Multiple organizations, including the hospital and Harbor Homes, as well as the Rev. Chip Seadale, who runs the Houses of Grace program, had worked tirelessly over the past two months to secure a facility, or multiple facilities, that could fill in for church shelters forced to shut down due to Covid-19 safety restrictions. While the organizations raised more than $250,000, including a $150,000 grant from the hospital as well as large private donations to pay for staffing, PPE and other expenses, the search for a facility remained fruitless until this week.

Original ideas included multiple smaller buildings, fire stations, or funding for hotel rooms — although hotels can only service certain segments of the Island’s homeless community.

But with the Whaling Church likely secured, Ms. Schepici breathed a sigh of relief at the press briefing on Wednesday.

“It is exciting,” Ms. Schepici said. “It is getting cold, as you know, and it wasn’t coming together as quickly as we would have hoped. But this is great.”

Final approvals for the church’s use as a shelter are expected soon, Ms. Schepici said, adding that with a space secured, the organizations would now look to staffing needs.

“Many, many thanks to harbor homes for securing the Whaling Church, and for the Whaling Church for offering that space,” Ms. Schepici said. “Now that a space has been identified, there is a need for paid staff and volunteers, for anyone who is interested.”

The large, historic church, which is located on Edgartown’s Main street and is heated during the winter, will likely be open 24 hours a day and provide enough space for approximately 13 to 14 individuals per night, Ms. Schepici said. Houses of Grace, which operated from Jan. 1 through March 31, averaged around 10 individuals per night, according to Ms. Schepici.

The pandemic also forced the closure of the Island’s winter warming shelter — a need that the Whaling Church could fulfill as well. The building contains a 470-seat sanctuary filled with pews, as well as a large lower level that includes a commercial-grade kitchen.

Dating to 1843, the Old Whaling Church has served as a sanctuary over the course of its 170 years, housing everyone from lost seafarers to parishioners, hosting religious services, potlucks, piano concerts, weddings, town meetings, lectures and more. The iconic Greek Revival building was given to the Vineyard Preservation Trust, now the Vineyard Trust, in 1980. The town of Edgartown owns the clock and clock tower that sit atop the church.

Ms. Schepici offered her thanks that the church would be able to service a new population of Islanders on Wednesday.

“This all happened because of the generosity of the Island, and all involved,” she said.