FARMINGTON — Mt. Blue School District (RSU 9) has received two grants to serve its homeless students totaling around $32,941.6, Cape Cod Hill School Principal Lisa Sinclair reported to the Board of Directors during the Tuesday, Dec. 14, meeting.

Sinclair is the liaison for the McKinney-Vento Act, a federal law that requires public school districts to identify homeless or housing-insecure youth in their student populations and then provide them with specific services.

Sinclair told the board there are 29 homeless students in the district. Thirteen housing insecure students are at the Kindergarten through fifth grade level, six are in the middle school and 10 are in the high school.

Students are considered “homeless” if they are “doubled up with friends or relatives due to loss of housing or economic hardship,” “living in a shelter,” “living in motels/hotels,” “living outside or in cars,” “migratory students that qualify,” or “living in RV’s/tents in cold weather.”

Young people without stable housing have also told the Franklin Journal that they prefer the term “housing insecure” over “homeless.”

According to the Maine Department of Education, schools are required under the McKinney-Vento Act to provide services which include but are not limited to: a guarantee that housing-insecure youth can remain enrolled at their school even if they are not currently living in the district; educational services; transportation services to and from school and school-sponsored events; and referrals for the entire family to health care services such as health, dental and mental health treatment.


Sinclair said that the law and the district’s new grants are “important … because: one, it’s the law; two, it’s the right thing to do for our students; and three, if students are in crisis, they are not available to learn.”

The district has received two grants: $9,000 from the “American Rescue Grant for Homeless I” and $23,492 from “the American Rescue Plan Homeless Children and Youth II grant,” Sinclair said.

The first grant “is for any expenses necessary to facilitate the identification, enrollment retention or educational success of our homeless students,” Sinclair said.

So far, $2,o00 of the $9,000 has been spent “largely on supplying kiddos with immediate needs that they have,” Sinclair added.

In the second grant from the American Rescue Plan Act, Sinclair told the board that the Department of Education advises the district use the money “to train points of contact [staff] at each school in our district so we can better identify and support kiddos at the school level.”

The grant can also be spent on building food pantries, clothing closets and other services that can meet the needs of housing insecure students, she said.


Sinclair ended her presentation by stating that “the percentage of State of Maine kiddos that are homeless is 1.1%. And with us at 29, we are right on that mark at 1.1%.”

However, the correspondence between the statewide and district percentages do not necessarily account for housing-insecure students who have not yet been identified at Mt. Blue. According to a study, it also does not reflect the specific number of housing-insecure people, youth statewide and specifically those in rural areas such as Franklin County. It also overlooks the differences between rural and urban experiences.

Preble Street published a study in 2015 titled “Conducting an Accurate Count of Rural Homeless Youth.” It finds rural states such as Maine are missing out on a large portion of the housing-insecure youth population. This is especially true in rural regions, authors Jon Bradley and Thomas Chalmers McLaughlin write.

This is because the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) conducts point-in-time (PIT) counts of housing-insecure people “at shelters and where they may be found on the street.”

This, authors say, is problematic because there are only three youth shelters in the entire state. Locally, there is no longer a homeless shelter in Franklin County after the Western Maine Homeless Outreach shelter shut down in March 2020.

Through interviews and data collection, “the Maine Youth Count discovered large numbers of youth who were unstably housed and missing from” the PIT counts.


“Many individuals in rural communities who are struggling with housing are not included in the federal point-in-time counts,” the study states.

Additionally, the PIT counts do not capture “meaningful counts of youth” who “tend to double up with friends or other family members while the HUD definition only counts those who are in shelters or on the street” as homeless.

“The number of youth found in the study indicates a true estimate of unstably housed and homeless youth in Maine to be many times greater than previously documented,” the study concludes. “The data suggests the current point-in-time method of counting youth who are homeless does not accurately estimate the nature or extent of homelessness among youth.”

However, Sinclair said during the meeting that the corresponding figures “tells me that we’re doing a good job at identifying our kiddos.”

“And now we just need to expand our supports for them,” she concluded.

During discussion, directors asked Sinclair about the specific services the school is providing, the school’s collaborations with local advocacy organizations for housing insecure youth, outreach to youth, mentorship services, and how the students without essential amenities are being cared for during winter.


Director Kirk Doyle asked how the district would “identify folks that might fall into this [homeless] category.”

“Is there anything that we can do … to show to students that there are resources available if they [found] themselves in that spot? Or if they know somebody that’s in that spot that maybe is shy to speak up?” Doyle asked.

Sinclair responded that “education is going to be key” so that students know that they won’t get in trouble, be kicked out of school if the district learns they are doubled up or living outside of the district.

“I think maybe destigmatizing so that students feel comfortable expressing that they have a need,” Sinclair added. “It’s just kind of being aware and building relationships [between counselors, teachers] with kids such that they’ll be willing to come to us with the needs that they have.”

In addition, Sinclair mentioned earlier in the presentation that she had implemented a “housing questionnaire” at the back of students’ back-to-school packets. This resulted in classifying an additional 11 students as housing insecure, she said.

According to DOE data acquired by the Franklin Journal, RSU 9 had eight students across the entire district registered under “Homeless counts by night-time residence” in April 2021. That number had previously been around 25-30 students in April 2020.


Director Cherieann Harrison said she was “concerned” about the categories of homelessness, particularly in a line from the report that said “some [housing-insecure students] have inadequate housing (no heat/water).” She asked what support the district is offering.

Sinclair said that the solution was for “destigmatizing, because those are families in need, who may not feel comfortable in sharing that.”

“It goes back to building relationships with our community members, and reaching out to them, often with ‘we’re here to support,'” Sinclair said.

Sinclair did not provide concrete plans for providing support to housing-insecure students without heat or electricity or collaborations with local housing-insecure youth advocacy organizations such as the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies.

Director Doug Dunlap also suggested that students be provided mentors.

“Is there an adult who can shepherd them through this process?” Dunlap asked.

Sinclair said she hopes to use the ARPA funding to create “points of contact at each building level.”

“Right now, there’s me, but I’m not in each building and the kiddos don’t know me, you know, other than my kiddos,” Sinclair said. “So we need a point of contact at each building that the kiddos know and know who to go to.”

Comments are not available on this story.