Like many parents, Ashley Livingston is worried about making sure her children are ready for school. Unlike most parents, however, she and her family are homeless and living in a tent.

Livingston said her family was kicked out of the Portland Expo in early August and barred from the city’s family shelter – she says unjustly – for not following the shelter’s rules.

For now, Livingston, her husband, David Pippin, and their two youngest children are living in a tent in various spots, including behind the tennis courts in Deering Oaks park. They eat at the Preble Street Resource Center soup kitchen, wander Portland during the day and try to be discrete about where they pitch their tent at night.

“This is the absolute last option,” said Livingston, who has been working with social workers at the Opportunity Alliance to try to find housing.

“I can’t remember the last time I cooked for the kids,” she said Friday, tearing up. “I just want to bathe them, get them ready for school, have new shoes and some new outfits for school, just like normal families. Is that so bad? Are my kids undeserving?”

City officials were either unable or unavailable to comment on Livingston’s situation Friday.

Maine is experiencing a surge in homeless school-aged students, with more than 2,500 homeless students in the 2016-17 school year, according to the most recent data available from the National Center for Homeless Education. That is up from about 1,900 homeless students in 2014-15.

Livingston said her family was kicked out of the Portland Family Shelter for not following rules that she says are arbitrary and unclear. She said they may have been forced out for not following spending rules for clients staying at the shelter that are designed to get families to save money for housing.

Livingston doesn’t have documentation explaining why she was kicked out, but she believes it was because she broke the spending rules when she paid for school supplies for her four children. The two older children – an 11-year-old girl and a 15-year-old boy – are temporarily staying with relatives or friends, while the two youngest – David, a 5-year-old entering kindergarten and Harry, his 3-year-old brother – are staying in the tent.

She showed the Portland Press Herald receipts showing that she spent about $300 on shoes, outfits and school supplies for her children. Livingston said her children had holes in their shoes. She also spent money for several weeks early this year when the family was living in hotel rooms.

Livingston’s mother, Wendy Livingston of South Portland, said her daughter needs help, and has trouble managing her money. Wendy Livingston said her daughter spends money on items that could be put off until later, when she should be saving for rent.

“She carelessly spends her money because it feels good in the moment,” said Wendy Livingston, who lives at Portland’s Barron Center. She is recovering from injuries she sustained when she was hit by a car in South Portland and has no place for her daughter’s family to stay. “She is not well and she does need help.”

Wendy Livingston said that her daughter also has longstanding mental health problems, and that she needs to attend more consistent therapy sessions. Ashley Livingston, who dropped out of South Portland High School in 10th grade, acknowledged that she suffers from mental illness.

Jeff Tardif, program manager for the city’s family shelter, said he was not available for an interview Friday afternoon. He said in an email that all media interviews have to be coordinated by communications director Jessica Grondin, who was not available Friday.

Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling said that he doesn’t know about the family’s specific situation, but that the shelter has rules that allow the shelter to evict families that are disruptive.

Ashley Livingston said she has had several disputes with Tardif over rules at the shelter, and that they don’t get along.

Portland City Manager Jon Jennings couldn’t be reached for comment late Friday afternoon.

Ashley Livingston is originally from South Portland and has lived there off and on for many years, so her children attended South Portland schools last school year and she hopes they can attend there this year. Homeless families are permitted to have their children attend schools where they have traditionally been located, to provide some stability in the children’s lives.

Livingston, 33, said “they had no right to kick us out of” the Portland Expo and bar them from the family shelter and the overflow shelter at the Salvation Army.

“It’s just so frustrating,” Livingston said. She said they had been living at the family shelter or the shelter’s overflow space, and also were one of the few families from Greater Portland who were housed at the Portland Expo with asylum seekers this summer.

“Why is it so hard on me and my family?” Livingston asked. “My kids don’t understand why no one is helping us.”

Livingston said she receives about $930 per month from federal disability payments related to her children’s disabilities, but has been unable to save enough to find housing.

She used to have Section 8 housing vouchers, but those expired, and she can’t remember why. She also said that she’s a diabetic and that her health has deteriorated from eating an unhealthy diet living on the streets.

She said she is on a waiting list to get into South Portland public housing. She and her husband have worked various jobs, including fast food restaurants and housekeeping, but are currently unemployed.

“We’ve been through the wringer,” Livingston said.

 

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