Some Midcoast school districts have under-identified homeless students over the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nearly 123 homeless students were enrolled under the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act in 2021 across four school local districts, contributing to 9.2% of the total 1,335 homeless students enrolled across the state.

During the 2019-20 school year, the Brunswick School Department had 59 homeless students enrolled under McKinney-Vento. The 2020-21 and 2021-22 enrollment decreased to 46 and 32 students, respectively.

“In 2019-20, Brunswick had an influx of families whose housing did not meet the definition of reliable, and so they qualified for McKinney-Vento,” said Brunswick School Department Assistant Superintendent Shawn Lambert. “In 2020-21, those families’ housing situations changed, and their housing was determined to be reliable, and so they did not qualify for McKinney-Vento.”

Lambert said that in 2020-21, the pandemic and remote learning made it difficult for Brunswick to identify families who were experiencing homelessness.

“Many communities in Maine experienced this,” said Lambert. “We suspect this reduction did not mean there were fewer families experiencing homelessness.”


The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act provides students who lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence with the right to free, appropriate public education that other students receive. Services include immediate enrollment, even if that student is lacking documents normally required for enrollment, and transportation to and from school even if they are currently residing outside of the district.

The Maine Department of Education attributes the decline in homeless student enrollment to schools not knowing students’ housing situations due to disruptions caused by the pandemic, following a national trend.

Bath-based Regional School Unit 1 saw homeless enrollment in the last three years range between 23 and 44. Lisbon School Department saw an increase in homeless students in the 2021-22 school year compared to 24 homeless students in 2020-21.

However, Topsham-based Maine School Administrative District 75 saw a steady decline in the enrollment rate with 40 homeless students identified in 2018-19 and only 28 and 26 homeless students identified under the Act in 2019-20 and 2021-22, respectively.

“The decline in numbers is clearly related to the pandemic,” said MSAD 75 School District McKinney Vento Coordinator Mary Booth. “If you look at our trend data through 2003, we average between 40 and 50 cases a year and that will hold until you get to those two years. During the pandemic, a lot of students were not coming to school, and people were stressed and were just in survival mode.”

Booth added: “You are talking about people that are under a tremendous amount of stress and trauma, so they were not identifying and getting into a routine. The thing with identifying and coming to school is that now you are committing to make school a routine part of your life.”


The state average of homeless students over the past 10 years is 1,587, ranging between 0.46%-1.36% of the total student population, according to the Maine Department of Education.

Nearly 929 students identified as homeless in 2020 doubled up with others, while 177 stayed at motels or hotels, 370 stayed at shelters, and 61% stayed in unsheltered situations.

The national average assumes homeless students make up at least 3% of the entire student population, and Maine is very likely ‘under’ identifying students who qualify as McKinney-Vento.

“This could be due to families not feeling safe or comfortable disclosing their homelessness status, concerns about Department of Health and Human Services involvement, a lack of understanding of the Act, and the rural nature of the state,” according to a statement from Maine DOE. “Majority of the students qualify because they are ‘doubled up’ or sharing housing.”

Last year, the state received more than $2.6 million in federal funding for homeless student programs, such as connecting with community organizations, receiving mental health support, and getting tutoring services.

“The department has contracted with several community-based organizations to increase McKinney-Vento Act awareness statewide,” according to a statement from Maine DOE. “We have also developed quick videos, materials, and presentations that have been shared throughout the state, and our state coordinator has been presenting to groups statewide about basic eligibility and rights of students who qualify.”

This story was updated at 11:45 a.m. Feb. 10 to correctly attribute the acronym for the Maine Department of Education.

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