Homelessness continues to climb on the Vineyard, a recent count confirmed.

The annual point-in-time count conducted late last month found 41 homeless individuals on Martha’s Vineyard, compared with 28 last year.

Lower level of the church has been converted to an overnight and warming shelter this winter. — Mark Alan Lovewell

The national count is conducted in all communities that receive federal funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The count on the Vineyard took place Jan. 26, and was coordinated by Karen Tewhey, executive director of Harbor Homes of Martha’s Vineyard.

Ms. Tewhey said the actual number of homeless people on the Island is likely much higher.

“This is a count for one particular night of the individuals we could ascertain their whereabouts and knew they were accountable,” Ms. Tewhey explained. “But this is an underestimate in the number of people who are homeless which we estimate to be between 80 and 100 at any one point in time.”

Ms. Tewhey said the count is not entirely accurate in part because many people do not want to disclose the state of their housing situation, or in some cases have been displaced so recently the count is already outdated. The issue has been exacerbated by the pandemic.

“We know that there are people, including families, that aren’t self-disclosing that they’re living in places that aren’t legal, safe, sanitary apartments,” she said. “We also know that there are people losing their rental opportunities all of the time. Houses are getting sold and people are getting displaced.”

Ms. Tewhey also said the higher number of homeless individuals listed on the Island this year can be tracked to some positive factors, most notably the Harbor Homes organization that helps house at-risk individuals, pays for hotel rooms and operates the newly opened shelter in the lower level of the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown.

The shelter was made possible late this fall after organizers raised $250,000, including a $150,000 donation from the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, to continue the Houses of Grace winter shelter program. The program had been at risk for closing due to the pandemic, precisely at a time when the need was growing.

“The funding allowed us to help more people and that meant more people self-referred or identified as homeless,” Ms. Tewhey said.

The Whaling Church church shelter opened in November and provides a free bed, meal or afternoon warming shelter for anyone who needs it, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The shelter was originally scheduled to be open through the end of March but will remain open into April thanks to ongoing community support, Ms. Tewhey said.

“The fact that people have volunteered meant that we can stretch the funding further and we are going to keep the program open until April 15,” she said.

The shelter has the capacity for 13 people, but Ms. Tewhey said if there is more need she can arrange a hotel room for the night through the Harbor Homes network. All the meals are prepared and donated by Island restaurants, private chefs and Island churches.

“The Whaling Church program is an extraordinary success in that it is offering a safe, supportive environment for people who don’t have any housing,” Ms. Tewhey said.

To volunteer or donate, contact Lisa Belcastro, shelter coordinator, at lisa@lisabelcastro.com or 508-560-3678.