Jeanie Cannell talks on the phone to someone from a Biddeford hospital about their housing situation on Monday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

The plight of a homeless family forced to live in a van at a Maine Turnpike service plaza has captured widespread attention and attracted offers of assistance ranging from restaurant meals to a two-night hotel stay.

Thousands of people have read the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram story since it was posted Sunday. A GoFundMe page had raised thousands of dollars by Monday night.

For the past three months, 63-year-old Jeanie Cannell, her 72-year-old husband, Roger, and his 50-year-old daughter Margaret Belanger have been sleeping in a van parked at the Kennebunk service plaza while they searched in vain for an apartment. They’ve been looking for more than seven months, since long before they were pushed into homelessness after leaving their apartment in Biddeford and after their winter rental in Old Orchard Beach ended.

Their situation has been complicated by Roger Cannell’s health problems. He has bladder cancer and undergoes chemotherapy once a week, as well as physical therapy twice a week for injuries from a devastating fall that ended his 29-year career as a dump truck driver for Shaw Brothers Construction. He is in constantagonizing pain, the family says.

But, their story has not gone unnoticed.

A local restaurant owner has offered to feed the family, a good samaritan paid for them to spend a night in a Kennebunk hotel, and Carla Valentine of Gorham launched a GoFundMe campaign, which had raised more than $22,000 by Monday evening. People from across Maine and as far away as Maryland have donated.


“I believe we can do better in Maine and I want to show this family that Mainers – including those with vacation homes in our beautiful state – take notice and donate to make this family’s nightmare end, today!” Valentine wrote on the fundraising page.

Valentine said Monday that the family’s predicament resonated with her, even though she has not met the family. She returned to Maine from Italy in 2020 and had trouble finding an affordable place to live because of her personal circumstances, she said. Valentine, who eventually found work as a travel agent, said she got lucky and secured a studio apartment in Gorham, but things could have turned out differently.

“I can so relate to this family,” Valentine said. “If the timing had been different for me …”

Jeanie Cannell wipes something off her husband Roger Cannell’s face outside of the hotel they spent the night in on Monday. The family stayed at the Kennebunk hotel the night before, paid for by a person who read the story. They are staying at the same hotel for one more night. The three each got their own bed and Roger said he felt like he was finally able to get some sleep. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Valentine wants to raise $24,000 to help the family cover rent and other expenses.

“These are proud, hard working Mainers. Both Jeanie and her (step) daughter work full-time jobs. Yet, that still is not enough to make ends meet and that was before inflation hit,” she wrote. “Let’s show this family a little Maine hospitality and get them a decent roof over their heads.”

Jeanie Cannell said Monday that her family has been moved by the gofundme donations. She cited the five-dollar donations in particular, saying she was touched because they were most likely made by people who don’t have a lot of money. She said she feels more hopeful about the family’s future since the story came out.


Merrilee Paul, owner of 50 Local, a Kennebunk restaurant, said she was inspired by the Cannells’ story and offered to feed them.

Jeanie visited the restaurant Monday afternoon. Paul gave her a gift card and the family returned for dinner Monday night. Her offer to feed them, if they need a meal, stands.

“I just felt like I needed to do something. They are right here in Kennebunk, a mile or two away from my restaurant. I couldn’t offer them housing, but I could offer them food,” Paul said.

Jeanie Cannell hugs Merrilee Paul, the owner of 50 Local, a restaurant in Kennebunk, on Monday. Paul heard about the homeless family’s plight and offered to feed them if they needed a meal. The family ate at the restaurant on Monday night. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Paul praised the family, especially Jeanie Cannell, for their courage in telling their story. Paul hopes others will take notice and help.

“If we don’t help them, then who will?” she asked.

After the story was published Sunday, the Cannells said they were approached by several people at the Kennebunk service plaza asking if they were the family featured in the article. Some offered gift cards or money. One offered to pay for a hotel room on Sunday night at a Kennebunk hotel. They took him up on his offer and slept inside a building for the first time in three months. Everyone got a chance to shower Sunday night.


“I got to have a hot bath,” Jeanie Cannell said.

The hotel agreed to extend their stay by one night, but after Monday they expected to return to sleeping in the van.

Jeanie Cannell said they have received a few potential housing offers. But as of Monday they still do not have a place to live. She hopes they can find a place somewhere between Kennebunk and Scarborough, near Roger’s doctors and their jobs.

Staff photographer Brianna Soukup contributed to this story

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