By Tammy Wells

SACO – Each night, there are young people in Saco sleeping in circumstances that are unstable. While they might have a place to lay their head, that place may be temporary. Some teens may be coach surfing,” staying with friends. Some families may be living in a camper on the property of friends or family members. Some may be camping.

Saco resident Don Pilon said he has been thinking about the situation of teen homelessness, and believes it is time to look at ways to assure young people have a secure roof over their heads. Press Herald file photo

Some live with their families in long-term temporary situations in hotel rooms.

Others may be “doubled up” – a parent and child or children may have moved in temporarily with family members or others – the most frequent scenario, say Saco’s assistant superintendent Margaret Parkhurst and Thornton Academy social worker Ariana Hadiaris.

Parkhurst said March figures show there are 89 students in Pre-kindergarten through Grade 8 and 25 in grades 9-12 who are inadequately housed, the term used by the federal government that describes the lack of a stable living situation. Overall, Parkhurst said about one-third of the total are in a variety of living situations, while about two-thirds are in long-term temporary hotel accommodations.

The school department, Thornton Academy, and local nonprofits pitch in to help – making sure those who need it have food, clothing and other essentials.


Unstable housing however, persists. Saco resident Don Pilon said he has been thinking about the situation of teen homelessness, and believes it is time to look at ways to assure young people have a secure roof over their heads.

Pilon, a former state legislator and former Saco mayor, said he is not running for office – that he is now focusing his energy trying to put the pieces together find a solution.

His worry is that young people who don’t have a consistent place to live are not as able to get as robust an education as do those with a more stable living situation. “It’s not a good track for a child to get them to the next life experience,” he said.

Pilon met with Sue Austin, president of the non-profit Ryan Home Project, an organization with a mission to provide a stable and safe home for unaccompanied 14–19-year-old teens in the MSAD 60 school district that includes Berwick, Lebanon and North Berwick. The project includes host families as well as a home for up to three young people, overseen by house parents.

He sees that model as a good starting point. “The Ryan Home model is essentially the best of both worlds for homeless teens.” he said. “Now that I have a working model to refer to with data it’s time to get interested parties together to move this along.”

Back at Saco School Department, Parkhurst said staff work with various agencies that help provide services. As well the Saco Education Foundation (formerly Saco STEAM) and the newly-formed Aid for Saco Kids pitch in to help with fuel and the like.


There are supports like clothing, “so kids experiencing homelessness can come to school feeling like they fit in,” said Parkhurst, along with access to showers, and food, which is provided through the backpack program.

She said each school in Saco has a resiliency coordinator, as well as interventionalists, who tailor services to individual students, whether they are homeless or not.

At Thornton Academy, Hadiaris said kids can access a clothes closet, there are hygiene and toiletry kits, and folks make sure students have what they need to engage in extracurricular activities, like cleats for football and similar items.

Hadiaris works with seniors on post-secondary plans.

“I have a senior now who doubled up with another family. (The student) has been accepted and is planning to attend college,” she said, so she is assisting with the financial aid application process.

Hadiaris said the collaboration between agencies and school districts, which is needed as teens and families sometimes move between districts, is amazing.

Parkhurst said the Saco community is supportive.

“The willingness of the Saco community to help is there,” said Parkhurst. “That is very humbling.”

Pilon is looking for others to join him in exploring housing possibilities. He may be reached at

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