SOUTH PORTLAND — South Portland’s homeless student population is already at least double what the district normally sees in a given school year – and with months to go before summer break, School Superintendent Ken Kunin worries that number may go up even more.

“It’s only January,” he said. “We’re only at mid-year.”

In a typical school year, Kunin said, the district has about 30-40 students with no fixed addresses. Kunin said from September 2020 to January 2021, the district already has recorded 102 students who are homeless. Of those, 75 are enrolled in the district. The rest, Kunin said, have moved out of town.

“The numbers are just really striking,” he said.

Kunin said the numbers are being driven by “economic disruption and dislocation caused by the pandemic.”

There may be some relief in sight. At the school board’s Jan. 13 meeting, the district announced an anonymous $25,000 donation earmarked for homeless students and those in need.

Gretchen McCloy, the district’s director of community partnerships who coordinates efforts to help homeless students, said the donor has been contributing to the district for the past five years and gave a similar donation last year.

Part of the funds, McCloy said, has been used to purchase bus passes and school supplies for students. In addition, part-time staffers have been hired to coordinate with nonprofits such as The Locker Project, a nonprofit that has been working with school departments in the Greater Portland area to feed needy students since 2014.

According to Executive Director Kathryn Sargent, the Locker Project donated 227,000 pounds of food in Cumberland County, with an estimated 57,000 pounds going to South Portland alone. In 2020, she said, the organization shared 425,000 pounds, with an estimated 100,000 pounds to South Portland.

Sargent said the increase reflects the growing number of requests from participating districts on behalf of needy kids.

“The pandemic put a lot of people out of work,” she said.

McCloy echoed Kunin’s concern, citing “a significant increase” in the number of homeless families. She said the new donation will allow the district to continue providing the help it has been extending, but Kunin also said he is exploring the idea of adding a new social worker to the district’s staff to handle the growing need.

Kunin said the cost would have to be added to the proposed 2022 budget and he acknowledged that, given the economic difficulties already anticipated in the 2022 budget process, adding any staff at all will be a challenge.

But he said he still wants to try, for the sake of needy students in the district.

“We just can’t afford to not get the attention and service that they need,” Kunin said.

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