LEWISTON — During a late winter day, a single mother and her 11-year-old daughter were staying at a local hotel with all their possessions. The woman, who asked not to be identified, was out of work.

Evicted from her apartment last year, she started living with a relative’s family in Greene. That didn’t work out. She had to move.

Waiting to get housing, she was in her hotel room, anxious, unsure of how long she’d be able to stay, where she’d go next.

A call to the woman two months later found her cellphone not accepting calls. That situation isn’t uncommon, school officials say.

Martel Elementary School secretary Rebecca Lussier said she typically has one or two families a year tell her they’re homeless.

“This year I’ve had 10 families step forward,” she said.  Some are in hotels, others at Hope Haven homeless shelter, others doubled up with other families, Lussier said.

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She alerts the School Department to ensure the family gets services, but in front of the students acts like it’s not a big deal. The goal is to keep school life normal.

Statewide, there are 1,183 homeless students in grades kindergarten to 12, said David Connerty-Marin, spokesman for the Maine Department of Education.

Maine has 186,906 prekindergarten to grade 12 students.

The homeless numbers are on the rise, Connerty-Marin said.

State statistics show the highest numbers are in Portland, which has 229 homeless students.

Lewiston has 87; Bangor, 26; Waterboro-Alfred-area schools have 78; Auburn has 47; Oxford-area schools, 45; and Biddeford, 39.

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“Two things are going on,” Connerty-Marin said. Tough economic times have led more students and families to be without permanent homes. And, as required by federal law, schools are doing a better job identifying and helping homeless students.

Homelessness is a school issue “in the same way hunger is a school issue,” he said. “A student is not going to be successful if there are stresses at home, or stresses because there is no home. That greatly impacts a student’s ability to learn.”

When students fall behind, “it’s difficult to catch up, hard for them to engage,” he said. “Some drop out.” Federal laws require schools to identify and help those students, which means providing transportation so they can attend the same school.

Lewiston High School homeless student liaison Mary Seaman said that in addition to helping high school students, she’s helped younger students and families this year. That’s new, she said.

“The depth and breadth of the problem is huge due to foreclosures, evictions, all of the housing market complications,” Seaman said. “More families have lost their housing.”

Several years into the recession means some have run out of means to help. Seaman and fellow staffer Jamie Caouette have referred parents to food pantries, the United Way and Red Cross. They’ve done outreach, visiting families living in motels. The families don’t want to be revealed, she said. “They’re trying to survive.”

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So far this year in Lewiston, 37 students in prekindergarten to grade eight became homeless, said Special Education Director George Veilleux. It’s about the same number that he’s seen in the last eight years.

“Sixteen this year are at hotels, 15 in shelters, others double up with relatives or friends,” he said.

That means the School Department sends a minivan, a cab or bus to motels, shelters or new addresses to pick up students and bring them to school.

Some parents are reluctant to say anything out of fear their child won’t be able to go to their school. Schools want children to go to the same school, even if they’ve moved, Veilleux said. 

“The last thing we want to do is interrupt their schooling.”

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Separate & Unequal2

No Home Schooling


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