If you think your town doesn’t need any more housing, or that a proposed apartment building isn’t a good fit for your neighborhood, think of Jeanie Cannell.

Cannell; her ailing husband, Roger, and his daughter Margaret Belanger have money saved and steady incomes. Yet they can find no place to live except for a van in a parking lot, with every home available either off the market quickly or far too expensive.

It’s taken decades to get this point, with so many people competing over so few places to live that a lot of them are simply out of luck. In that time, communities have failed to build enough housing – and enough of the right kind of housing in the right places.

Jeanie Cannell wipes a tear away as she sits inside the van where she lives with her husband and stepdaughter at the Kennebunk service plaza on the Maine Turnpike on Wednesday, July 20, 2022. She had just gotten off a shift at Cabela’s, where she works full-time. The family can find nowhere else to live despite their steady incomes and the money they’ve saved. Brianna Soukup/Staff photographer

It’s taken hundreds, perhaps thousands, of bad decisions to get to this point. Maine is short about 20,000 units of affordable housing, putting a lot of people in the same situation as Jeanie Cannell. And that number goes up every time a proposal to add housing is turned down, or when local rules favor sprawl and stagnancy over smart and sustainable growth.

Jeanie Cannell’s story, told in The Maine Sunday Telegram by writer Gillian Graham and photographer Brianna Soukup, shows why it’s so important that Maine, and everywhere else with the same problem, change course.

Read the entire piece to see what the housing crisis does to people who are doing everything right and yet still can’t catch a break.


Cannell and her family were living last year in a Biddeford apartment where they did not feel safe, then moved to a winter rental in Old Orchard Beach.

After winter, even with $1,500 a month to spend, the family couldn’t find an apartment, so instead they bought a 1997 Dodge Ram van for $2,500. They moved first to a campground in Saco, until the summer rates were too high, and then to the parking lot at the turnpike rest area in Kennebunk.

Now, Jeanie and Margaret clean up in the rest area bathroom before going to work at Cabela’s. Roger, who worked for 29 years in construction before a fall ended his career, is in constant pain made worse by the tight living quarters. He also is undergoing treatment for bladder cancer.

Meanwhile, Jeanie keeps searching for a home. She has applied for more than 100 rentals in her price range, running all over the state to do so, and often paying a nonrefundable application fee of $35 per person just to be turned down.

The Cannells are on a waiting list for a federal housing voucher, too. But getting that can take years, and even then it doesn’t guarantee that they’ll find a landlord who will accept the voucher.

All that Jeanie Cannell can do in the meantime is plug away, and try not to get overwhelmed in the unfairness of it all. Her family has worked hard, yet it’s not enough for the most basic of necessities.

The rest of us can do a lot more. We can fight for wages that provide workers with enough to live on. We can ask for zoning changes that build on the successes of the last legislative session and encourage housing of all kinds in our communities.

But most of all, we can support local housing development, rather than always trying to find a reason to reject it.

That’ll help make up for all the bad decisions made in recent years – and give people like Jeanie Cannell a chance to find a place they can call home.

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