PROVINCETOWN — As eighth-grader CJ Reid marched down Commercial Street through the West End of Provincetown, he explained his view of the root cause of homelessness on the Cape: housing is just too expensive.
As he walked, Reid talked about how hard it can be living year-round in a pricey vacation destination: “You don’t see a lot of housing targeted for middle- and lower-class people.” Stepping onto the sidewalk and out of the way of an approaching Mercedes-Benz, Reid added, “Lots of upper-class people don’t realize that.”
Reid was not alone in his concern about homelessness: 14 middle schoolers from the Provincetown Schools and about 85 others marched on the morning of June 12 in the Homeless Prevention Council’s annual Walk for Home.
In the weeks leading up to the event, the students helped raise money to support HPC’s programs to fight homelessness and housing insecurity on Cape Cod. Twenty-one fundraising teams raised a total of $47,000, according to HPC CEO Hadley Luddy.
HPC, founded in 1991, helps people experiencing homelessness with services such as case management and rental assistance. The organization’s 30th birthday comes at a moment of worsening homelessness and housing insecurity on the Cape.
In 2020, the HPC helped 1,985 people, 25 percent more than in 2019. Of those helped last year, 754 (or 38 percent) were from the four Outer Cape towns. According to 2019 estimates from the Census Bureau, Eastham, Wellfleet, Truro, and Provincetown make up only 27 percent of the population of the eight towns served by HPC. This suggests that Outer Cape residents have disproportionately felt the effects of the Cape’s housing crisis.
With little available housing and rents rising, Luddy said it’s crucial to keep people housed in the “fragile” stock that remains. For those who have already been displaced, she said, “there’s really nowhere to go.” The situation, she said, is “unlike anything we have ever seen.”
The procession of walkers was eager to grab the attention of shoppers and diners in downtown Provincetown. Wearing T-shirts with hearts on them and carrying homemade signs, they were met with approving claps and an occasional cheer as they made their way from town hall to Pilgrim’s First Landing Park and back — a 2.2-mile trot.
The student walkers were all part of the Provincetown Schools National Junior Honor Society and carried posters about what home means to them. The honor society’s fundraising team raised more than $2,000. According to Provincetown teacher and honor society adviser Amy Rokicki, several students in the school have experienced homelessness or housing insecurity.
Derek Reyes, a 7th-grader from Eastham, held a sign that read, “I walk because every family needs personal happiness.” Reyes said he wanted to participate in the march because he had seen the suffering others endured when experiencing homelessness, both when he lived in Mexico as a child and in Provincetown.
“I have seen people struggle to find a home,” he said.
Other walkers participated because of the experiences of friends and neighbors. Dana Hope of Provincetown walked as part of the Rev. Jim Cox Team, which honored the Provincetown Methodist Church pastor who died in 2019.
“I know too many people who have been squeezed out,” Hope said. “Working people, people with two or three jobs.” The rising costs of living on the Outer Cape mean that many longtime residents she knows are moving away for good.
Sheryl Souza, who was also on the Rev. Jim Cox Team, praised the work that HPC does, but acknowledged the scope of the housing problem on the Outer Cape.
“They try,” Souza said. “But they can’t make homes.”