Topsham-area schools are struggling to get an accurate count of homeless students in the district, a problem attributed in large part to the advent of remote learning at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pre-pandemic, Maine School Administrative District 75 reported an average of 46 homeless cases, affecting grades pre-kindergarten through grade 12. In 2021, the district reported 27 cases, and in 2022, it reported 30.

District Health Coordinator and Homeless Liaison Mary Booth said the decline in recent numbers was most likely because detection was made difficult, during remote learning.

“When going remote, even taking attendance of kids that are not homeless can be a challenge in that environment. It was day by day in figuring out what we were doing,” Booth said.

The district follows the provisions of the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 1987. The act is a federal law that provides money for homeless shelter programs, aiming to minimize disruptions caused by homelessness to a student’s education.

Homelessness can be defined as an individual who lacks a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence. This also includes unaccompanied homeless youths, who aren’t living with their legal guardian.


According to the school district’s website, “Under McKinney-Vento, homeless students are guaranteed the right to a free, appropriate, public education. When students become homeless, they can remain enrolled in the schools they have been attending, although they might no longer meet residency requirements. McKinney-Vento also guarantees homeless students the right to enroll in a public school even if they lack the typically required documents and immunizations. In addition, homeless students are guaranteed the transportation they need to attend school.”

When Topsham-based schools went hybrid, detection of homeless youths didn’t improve.

“That made relationships challenging because you might only be in for two days, going to your classes. Also, we were following distancing and masking guidelines. It was not conducive to those relationships, where you know you can go and sit with someone to talk about an issue,” Booth added.

Counselors and administrators relied on those in-person interactions with students to provide the help they needed. Not always being in person made this delicate topic difficult for students to speak on, she said.

Now that schools are back in session, the number of homeless students has started to transition back to pre-pandemic levels.

“This year, we have our students back. We are seeing our numbers start to recover,” Booth said. “April and May tend to be months where you see movement.”


Booth explained, homeless students typically leave temporary living situations to set up tents outdoors during the warmer months. Many homeless students may feel like they were a burden on the family that was hosting them, she said.

Going forward, the school plans to assist the homeless student population with early identification, availability to outside resources and increased awareness. Booth said they will do this using informational posters, additional sensitivity training for staff and creating opportunities for students to speak with counselors and administrators.

Booth says the school puts the safety of their students first, by providing them with access to education and connections in the community.

Two of the programs Booth connects her students with are the Midcoast Youth Center located in Bath and the Merry Meeting Homeless Youth Project in Brunswick. There, students can be assisted with applying for food stamps, Maine Care, housing and more.

“Homelessness doesn’t end just because the school day ends,” said Booth.

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