Midcoast Youth Center in Bath hosts an annual “Set for Success” event, where they provide free school supplies and haircuts for students going back to school. Contributed / Midcoast Youth Center

As schools open for a new year, the Midcoast Youth Center in Bath is helping an increasing number of students who must navigate their school days without a stable home or reliable caretakers.

“Our numbers have doubled” in recent years, said Jamie Dorr, executive director of the Midcoast Youth Center. “The state of Maine gets a very small amount of resources to support these young people and that’s really frustrating, so it’s always piecing together resources.”

For “a student who’s been in three different addresses, three different host homes over just the summer, drawing your attention back to something as structured as school is difficult,” said Outreach Coordinator Donna Verhoeven, who is working with 70 students.

Attending to school work is just one challenge that arises for these students, especially if they are currently staying outside of their school district.

“They have the right to go to their original school, so making sure they have that stability is important but also difficult,” Verhoeven said, largely due to transportation. She and Dorr said they often give rides to students themselves on their way to work, but they can’t fill all the driving needs.

“That’s made a huge difference for students who were chronically absent,” Dorr said.


According to the Maine Department of Education, 2,186 students in the state are experiencing housing insecurity this year, nearly 60% more than five years ago. The Preble Street homeless services organization in Portland reported last year that more than 30% of Maine’s unhoused population was under the age of 24, and youth and teen shelters across Southern Maine have reported increased numbers in the last few years.

Kristiana Cox, a former Mt. Ararat High School student who Verhoeven has assisted, told The Forecaster that the challenges of housing insecurity are many and they take an emotional toll.

“There’s inconsistency when we don’t have a stable ground to put our things … we constantly have to move everything we own and live with very little,” Cox said. “It can be really bad on your mental health. I had decent people but it still came with consequences. Not knowing what the next day has to hold can be very stressful and can weigh a lot. 

“It’s all a surviving game,” she said, making engaging in school difficult. When students don’t know where they’re sleeping, or where to get their next meal, it’s like “a constant run to the finish line, but the finish line keeps moving away.” 

In addition, youth who are housing insecure often have trust issues, she said. They “want to rely on somebody but don’t know what to say without getting themselves or their families in trouble.”

Verhoeven said MYC’s approach is to follow the students’ leads about how much of their stories they are willing to share.


“It was the trust I felt with (Verhoeven) and her guidance and being there for me” that made a difference for Cox, she said. Having trust in someone who can show you how to get help and where to find meals gives people the “sense that there’s another option rather than doing things that you shouldn’t be doing,” she said.

Ensuring the students finish their education is paramount, Verhoeven said.

“When there’s a life crisis they’re focusing on the survival factor, so finding outlets that will draw them into school, finding a supportive person in school and helping them find supportive adults” is important, she said.

Dorr said she would love to see emergency housing in Bath, and more coordinators like Verhoeven, who currently splits her time between Morse High School, Mt. Ararat High School and the youth center.

Dorr encourages youth who need help to seek out “any trusted adult in the school,” or come to MYC if they’re in the area. The center helps with school supplies, backpacks, items students need for their dorms and even phones. It provides a free dinner every day at 4 p.m. and has groceries, snacks and toiletries available.

Verhoeven helps her students enroll in driver’s ed courses, gets them started thinking about college or taking courses online, helps them apply for housing when they turn 18 and guides them in setting up bank accounts and managing their own health care, she said.

“We help them plan as young adults, which also gives them hope,” she said.

The center recently received a grant from Maine Housing to create transitional living for six young adults, ages 18 to 24, to live for two years while they get support in work development, “really getting them started on the right foot,” Dorr said.

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