Harbor Homes of Martha's Vineyard's proposal to open a winter overnight shelter on Hudson avenue in Oak Bluffs was met with resistance from neighbors this week. 

At a zoning board of appeals meeting Wednesday, several residents voiced their opposition to the nonprofit’s plan to open a shelter at 21 Hudson avenue, a property that has for years been staff housing for Island hotels. About 40 neighbors have also signed onto a petition against the project, saying they feel the location is inappropriate. 

With the Island’s skyhigh housing prices, Harbor Homes officials said having a permanent overnight shelter is crucial for Islanders. 

“This crisis has a particularly serious impact on individuals with incomes at or below 30 per cent of the median family income for Dukes County who are considered too poor for affordable housing,” said Johanna Schneider, an attorney for the nonprofit. 

While many abutters said they support Harbor Homes mission of helping people who have nowhere else to stay, they felt the services should be on a main thoroughfare near bus stops and not in their neighborhood. Several raised concerns about safety.

“I live alone,” said resident Billie Jean Sullivan. “I feel like there’s a sense of safety that I’m losing.” 

Many at the hearing worried about kids who walk in the area. 

“This is a project that you’re bringing into a neighborhood of children,” said Lisa Silvia, who lives on nearby Barling avenue. “It is a direct route to our elementary school. I see children walking everyday.”

Officials with Harbor Homes, which has operated the shelter at a Martha’s Vineyard Community Services building near the regional high school and several churches in the past, pushed back on the idea that having a shelter in the area would bring danger into the community. 

Guests of the shelter don’t linger in the area, they are checked for drugs and alcohol upon entry and lights out is at 9 p.m.

“For the first eight years that we were in operation, people weren’t lingering around the Federated Church or going over neighbors’ houses and sitting on their porches having a cigarette,” said Lisa Belcastro, the shelter director. “It just wasn’t happening.” 

Ms. Belcastro said that she understands the skepticism and concern, but Harbor Homes has run two other residences without complaint, and turning the hotel staff housing into a shelter could actually be less disruptive. 

“Stigma comes from hate and comes from fear,” she said. “But it doesn’t always have any basis in fact. Our guests are wonderful people.” 

The zoning board unanimously referred the project to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission for further review and made no determinations Wednesday. 

Harbor Homes previously said the property’s six-bedroom dormitory could hold about 19 guests. A two-bedroom apartment there is planned to be used for families experiencing homelessness or domestic violence at any time of the year. 

Outside of winter, the property could be rented out for workforce housing.

Harbor Homes is asking the zoning board to find the project would not have a substantial detriment to the town and approve a special permit to change the use from staff housing to a seasonal shelter, temporary housing and summer staff housing. 

Oak Bluffs building inspector Matthew Rossi did raise a potential wrinkle in the process. Going through old zoning regulations, Mr. Rossi said that the property was never issued a permit to be a boarding house in the past, meaning technically it shouldn't be considered a pre-existing, nonconforming use. 

The zoning board hearing is scheduled to resume on Nov. 15.