After nearly eight years of hopscotching between church basements and empty classrooms, the nonprofit behind the Vineyard’s winter homeless shelter is hoping to welcome overnight guests at a new, permanent address in Oak Bluffs.

Harbor Homes of Martha’s Vineyard, which operates the winter shelter and two transitional group homes on the Island, is planning to buy a six-bedroom dormitory on Hudson avenue with the potential of opening the property in November, the nonprofit’s board chair Jennifer Frank said this week.

If the sale goes through, the property will become the Island’s first overnight shelter to operate under its own roof.

“Currently, Harbor Homes is under contract to acquire a property that can solve three problems on the Island: the need for a winter shelter, temporary housing for homeless families and domestic violence victims and summer workforce housing,” Ms. Frank told the Gazette.

Harbor Homes still must obtain a special permit for the shelter from the Oak Bluffs zoning board of appeals, which will hold a hearing on the nonprofit’s application Oct. 18 at town hall.

This listing price for the property is $2.95 million. It needs only minimal work to be ready for its new occupants, Ms. Frank said.

“It’s pretty much turnkey [and] comes fully furnished,” she said.

Built as a dormitory for hotel workers, the potential future winter shelter has six bedrooms and two bathrooms, as well as a two-bedroom apartment. It can host up to 19 people a night, including two Harbor Homes volunteers or staffers, Ms. Frank said.

Out of 38 different people who visited the shelter last year, the average number of guests per night was 11 and the largest number on a single night was 16, she said.

The shelter is planned to be seasonal and when it closes in April, the dormitory could provide housing for summer workers, Ms. Frank said.

The building could fill a crucial gap for people without a place to stay, she added.

“The Island currently does not have a facility that can house homeless families,” Ms. Frank said.

The connected-apartment can accommodate up to six people in two single-bedroom units with bathrooms. Harbor Homes plans to use this for families experiencing homelessness or domestic violence at any time of the year.

Both the dormitory and the apartment have communal living and cooking areas and laundry facilities. The property also has a yard, large enough for outdoor activities, and provides plenty of vehicle parking.
“We would not be using any street parking,” Ms. Frank said.

Harbor Homes expects it could open the family shelter soon after the scheduled Nov. 8 closing date, Ms. Frank said. The winter shelter will move in later, after beginning its season Nov. 1 in the former preschool building at Martha’s Vineyard Community Services where it has operated for the previous two winters, she said.

“We need some time to make these few cosmetic changes,” Ms. Frank said.

If the location is approved by the zoning board it will mark the first time in the winter shelter’s eight-year history that guests will sleep on beds in purpose-built bedrooms, instead of air mattresses on the floor of a church hall or former schoolroom.

Local clergy members launched the winter shelter program at the beginning of 2016, after a research study by the University of Massachusetts Rural Scholars revealed the extent to which the Island’s housing costs were pushing people into homelessness.

Church leaders were seeing the effects of the crisis first-hand, said the Rev. Vincent (Chip) Seadale of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Edgartown.

“A few of us were being visited frequently by people who had no place to stay, [and] at that point, there was really nothing on the Island at all to help them, and certainly nothing organized,” Mr. Seadale said.

Mr. Seadale and other ministers, including the Rev. Cathlin Baker of the First Congregational Church of West Tisbury and Bob Barnett, former Faith Community Church pastor, mustered dozens of volunteers to welcome overnight guests at locations rotating among down-Island churches.

Karen Tewhey, then Dukes County’s associate commissioner for homeless prevention, worked with the clergy group to found Harbor Homes in 2018.

The nonprofit purchased its first property in 2020, a transitional home for up to six men on Tashmoo avenue in Vineyard Haven. The following year, Harbor Homes bought a house on New York avenue in Oak Bluffs that’s now a transitional home for six women.

The organization had been looking for a more permanent solution for its winter shelter, but this proved a challenge, Ms. Frank said, until she spotted the Hudson avenue listing a few weeks ago.

Ms. Frank said the shelter will serve Vineyarders, not people traveling from the mainland as rumors periodically suggest.

“There are Island residents. Some of them went to high school here. Some of them have full time jobs and lost their housing,” she said.

“Some of the people that we serve have jobs only in the summer season, and housing comes with those jobs [so] they’re not able to pay the expensive rent to live independently and need to use the shelter during the winter months,” Ms. Frank said.

Other guests live year-round in buildings that are not winterized, and some camp out in the state forest, she said.

“Those guests need a place to stay when it’s freezing cold outside,” Ms. Frank said.