Homeless On Nantucket: New Warming Center Set To Open

There are roughly a dozen people who are homeless on Nantucket right now, living in the woods, sleeping on benches or in vehicles, and facing the prospect of another cold winter on the island. 

That estimate comes from Rev. Linda Simmons, of the Unitarian Universalist Meeting House on Orange Street, who is leading the recently-formed ACK Homelessness Team to marshall assistance for this population that has gone overlooked and unheeded for years. There is no homeless shelter on the island, and while the numbers are small, the challenges are unique on Nantucket where the formal resources and infrastructure may be lacking, but the will to help those in need is robust. 

Next month, Simmons and the ACK Homelessness Team will launch a warming center for the island’s homeless population at the American Legion Hall on Washington Street. It’s starting small – opening on Mondays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. starting Dec. 13th – with the intention of creating a place where the island’s homeless “feel seen and loved, and a space to tell their story where they know it will be heard,” Simmons said. 

The team is seeking both volunteers to assist with the launch of the warming center, as well as financial contributions to sustain and grow the initiative in the future. 

“It seems unethical on an island of such wealth that we have people sleeping outside when it’s 20 degrees out,” Simmons said. “We have no shelter and there’s no way to get out of the cold here. With COVID, last year the library was closed and the Bean, places where people could go in and get warm. It was a brutal year to be homeless.”

While the new warming center is “not a solution” Simmons said, as the hours will be limited and it will not be open overnight, it will provide food and cots for individuals to rest without worrying about their belongings being stolen. More importantly, she said, it will be a place for them to connect with others in the same situation. 

She stressed that the ACK Homelessness Team is in fact trying not to use the word “homeless” in favor of the term  “unhoused” because “Nantucket is their home.” 

“They’re people who are Nantucketers, they’ve not coming over on the boat because they hear this is a good place to be homeless,” Simmons said. “They have a long history on the island, but for one reason or another have found themselves unhoused. The process of becoming homeless is a complicated one and involved many factors. As a minister here and coming to know folks who are unhoused, I had a lot of judgments about homelessness that were about my own ignorance. Getting to know some of these folks, I’ve come to realize that once I know the stories, but for the grace of privilege and luck and community, there go I. Can any of us really say we are beyond that?”

In addition to Simmons, the ACK Homelessness Team includes: Elise Nortan, program manager for hte Nantucket Family Resource Center; Sue Mynttinen, program director with NAMI on Nantucket; Taylor Hilst, social worker at Nantucket Cottage Hospital; Holly McGowen, Behavioral Health Task Force; and Debbie DuBois, co-director of the Nantucket Immigration Resource Center. 

The initiative has already received funding grants from the Community Foundation for Nantucket, and the Cape Cod Five Foundation. 

To volunteer at the warming center, register for a shift by clicking here

To donate to the Unitarian Universalist Meeting House’s GoFundMe campaign in support of the ACK Homelessness Team, click here

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