Q&A with Harbor Homes of Martha's Vineyard


Jen O'Hanlon had an opportunity to talk to Executive Director Karen Tewhey and Case Manager Rebecca Jamieson of Harbor Homes and learn more about the organization and its mission. As founder of the O'Hanlon Group of Compass Real Estate and with decades-long experience, Jen is well aware of the housing crisis on Martha's Vineyard and wanted to shed light on this sometimes uncomfortable topic. 

"Being in real estate on Martha's Vineyard, I see firsthand some of the issues we have with housing, and that is one of the reasons why I wanted to feature Harbor Homes."

Jen: Please share with us how Harbor Homes started and why it's needed on the island.
Karen: We were incorporated at the end of 2018, and it is only a few years old. Why it came about is because, on Martha's Vineyard, homelessness is not a visible entity. It's not like an urban area where we see homeless individuals out on the streets. Here on Martha's Vineyard, it was pretty hidden.
In 2016, Father Chip Seadale of St. Andrew's Church and other clergy members on the island started a winter shelter. This was the first type of programming for homeless individuals on the island. Obviously, without shelter, there were people in dire need who did not have a roof over their heads in the wintertime, and it was a life and death situation.

Jen: Can you talk about homelessness on Martha's Vineyard in general?
Karen: There were about 100 individuals who would self-refer and announce that they were struggling with putting a roof over their heads. It's gone up to about 120 this year, so it's increasing. A few things that are definitely unique about homelessness on Martha's Vineyard; is that anyone who's a renter on Martha's Vineyard is at risk of homelessness. There is a demand, but there is no supply. There is no vacancy. So that is unique; it's not like off island where you can commute a longer distance and, you know, move further away from your job. That's not possible when you're surrounded by water.

What people are not aware of is that there is a whole expanding population of people who are living in substandard conditions. And by that, I mean they're living in basements that aren't finished, that have cement walls with water dripping, and people who don't have access to kitchen facilities. People are living in sheds. There are people living in garages. There are people living in tents. There is incredible overcrowding.
You know, there are families that reach out to me, and three generations are living in one room. This does incredibly bad things to septic systems. It's an extremely substandard living situation, particularly for families and kids, and that is also sight unseen.

Through continuous capturing of the data, we understood the scope of the problem. Through annual data, we got a more comprehensive picture of how extensive the issue of homelessness on Martha's Vineyard was. Harbor Homes was the solution.

Jen: What are the programs that are part of Harbor Homes currently, and do you have plans for others in the future?
Karen: One of the clear priorities we've identified is finding a permanent home with a permanent funding source for our winter shelter, expanding the hours of that, and not having it pop around yearly as a last-minute entity. We started off focusing on two congregate houses; one congregate house for men and one for women. In addition, we have a shelter in the winter that we've expanded the months from November through the beginning of April. Recently, we've developed and expanded a hotel respite program in the past few years. There were individuals who were coming out of the hospital who had lost their rental because of a medical issue. They were still medically fragile, and their option was to sleep outside or live in a tent. So we developed a hotel respite program with a couple of the hotels that have been great collaborators in Vineyard Haven. Without collaborating with other community agencies on the island, we definitely would not have this array of programs and services. They would not exist.
Jen: Can you walk us through the process, as far as a typical applicant for the congregate housing and how long they may stay, and the services offered to them?
Rebecca: When Harbor Homes was created, it absorbed all of the homeless issues on the island, so now everything is under the Harbor Homes umbrella. When someone comes into the program, once they get accepted into our program, we meet and identify goals that they would like to work on so that they can improve their situation. Most of the individuals that come to us haven't had any stability for quite some time, so there's always an adjustment period. People come in learning how to live with others in the congregate setting, sharing a kitchen, bathroom, and common space. It's very self-driven. We want them to feel in control of where they're heading and what they're doing, and I meet with them to see where they are and assess how things are going. Many people that come to the program, too, when they first enter, are unemployed, so that's one of the things that we work on. If someone's unable to work or there may be a disability or something, we want to see some engagement in the community, maybe volunteer somewhere, doing something productive with their time.
Jen: Is there a success story that you could share with people?
Rebecca: Yes! One of our very first residents who came to us in 2020, a few months after we opened, had struggled for a long time on and off with homelessness, and so he came to us with a lot of depression and anxiety. Very unkept and poor hygiene, basically deemed unemployable. No self-esteem, kind of a shell of himself. It was really sad, but we were really happy to welcome him in. And he really took advantage of every opportunity, every resource, and he worked so hard, and he's reached all of his goals. He is employed full time and recently made an assistant manager at his job. He speaks up for himself, he found his voice. He is able to sit down and have a conversation and not feel like he can't speak. He's really blossomed, and he's done an amazing, amazing job. We're really proud of him!
To watch the full interview, click here. 

Give me shelter Art Show

On August 2nd and 3rd, 2022, the Grange Hall in West Tisbury hosted an art show to benefit Harbor Homes of MV.  The team at O'Hanlon Group contributed to the cause in the hope that every person in the community can proudly call Martha's Vineyard home.

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As a team, we work in harmony for the benefit of our clients. We handle multiple transactions at once and are able to execute a complex marketing strategy by leveraging team resources. We can be in several physical locations at once to ensure showings are always possible for our buyers and sellers. Our clients benefit from the combined experience of our agents and administrative staff.

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