Story by Gillian Graham | Photos by Brianna Soukup

Jeanie Cannell kisses her husband, Roger Cannell, in his hospital room in May.

KENNEBUNK — Jeanie Cannell had known for weeks that the small two-bedroom apartment was theirs. She’d peeked in the windows to check the progress of renovations. She’d done a walk-through with the property manager who had shown her on the lease how much rent she and her husband, Roger, would pay.

But until her key turned in the lock, she had felt it all could be taken away.

“Thank you, Jesus,” she called out as she stepped into the small entryway in mid-April, throwing her arms up in praise and joy.

Jeanie Cannell peers through the window of the apartment she and her husband applied to rent in an affordable housing complex in Kennebunk, whey they would pay around 30% of their income.  

The road to get here had been longer and harder than Jeanie had ever imagined two years ago, when she and Roger became homeless.

They lived for months in a van parked at the Kennebunk turnpike service plaza while Roger was treated for bladder cancer and Jeanie worked full time. They kept trying and failing to find a place they could afford.

A housing crisis in Maine has made it more difficult for people – especially those on limited incomes – to find homes. An influx of people moving to the state has tightened the market, making it harder for people who grew up here to afford to live here.

In the summer of 2022, Jeanie told their story to the Press Herald – about applying for apartments and not getting them and spending down their savings on application fees, about being wait-listed for a Section 8 voucher, about taking sponge baths in the travel plaza’s bathrooms and living in a parking lot.

Readers were so moved by the Cannells’ plight that they donated more than $46,000 through a GoFundMe campaign set up to try to help the couple.

Jeanie Cannell steps out of the van that she, her husband, Roger, and her step-daughter Margaret Belanger, right, had been living in at the Kennebunk service plaza in July 2022.

Roger Cannell makes the long walk to the restroom inside the service plaza in July 2022, stopping frequently because of pain.

Still, Roger and Jeanie struggled to find their way back to stability.

They found and lost housing. They used all of the money people had raised for them. They got sick and then better and then sick again.

Finally this spring, with the help of a friend, they had found this apartment, which they could afford on their Social Security checks.

They seemed to be heading toward solid ground.

But Jeanie was afraid to let herself get too excited.

Roger was struggling to recover from heart surgery. An old back injury was making him less mobile and causing him chronic pain. He kept moving back and forth between the hospital and rehab. She didn’t know if she would ever get him back.

Jeanie Cannell hugs her husband, Roger, on March 30 as they wait for a room to open up for him in an emergency room where he was brought after he fell in a rehab center.

“It’s like I’m here but my mind is there,” she said in April as she swept her new kitchen, while Roger was in a hospital in Portland. “Because of everything going on, it’s like you’re torn in torn into two different spots. Sometimes I don’t know which way to go.”


After readers jumped in to help, things seemed to be turning around.

One paid for a couple of nights in a hotel. Others stopped by the travel plaza with restaurant gift cards. A local couple loaned them a 38-foot RV and set them up at a nearby campground.

Jeanie and Roger Cannell laugh as they chat inside of an RV on Aug. 10, 2022. Another couple who had read about their story loaned them the RV to live in temporarily.

The Cannells – who have been married for a decade and have six children between them – used some of the money to pay off medical bills and repair their car. They rented a motel room for several months.

But then they went in with relatives on a house rental in Gorham, which cost them $10,500 to move in between the deposit and rent. They had agreed to pay a quarter of the rent – but then the relatives left, without helping to pay $6,000 in bills. And when Roger and Jeanie had to move out because they couldn’t afford the whole rent, they lost $7,000 in deposit money.

Roger Cannell heads out to the car from the hotel room he and Jeanie were living in on Nov. 13, 2022.

Jeanie Cannell holds her face and cries while she sits on her hotel bed. “I just want to live a normal life,” she said.

Then they were homeless again.

So they went back to the service plaza in early 2023, this time sleeping in their car because they had sold the van.

It felt like a step backward.

Roger saw the plaza as a perpetual purgatory, a place for waiting – for his wife to get off work, for his health to get better, for the two of them to find a place to live.


Jeanie, 65, got a job inside the service plaza but soon gave it up because that income meant they made too much to qualify for help but not enough to get by. They were still on the waiting list for a housing voucher and got $45 a month in food stamps.

Jeanie Cannell, still in her work uniform, sits inside of the van that she, her husband and stepdaughter had been living in at the Kennebunk Service Plaza in July 2022.

“It’s been rough. We’ve been through a lot,” Jeanie said last summer as she sat at a picnic table at the plaza. “What can we do, you know?”

Someone suggested around that time that Jeanie call Sen. Susan Collins’ office to see if anyone could help. She did – and she told her story and described Roger’s deteriorating health.

The next day, she got a call saying there was a rare spot for the two of them at the York County Shelter Programs in Alfred, the only homeless shelter in the county. But men and women stay in separate areas there, and Roger wouldn’t go unless Jeanie could stay with him. They had always liked to spend their time together, but now he needed her help for everything: getting dressed, eating, getting in and out of bed and the car.

Jeanie Cannell feeds her husband, Roger, a muffin she brought for him at the rehabilitation facility on April 1.

The shelter staff scrambled to find a way to make it work and moved them into adjoining rooms reserved for people with medical needs. The small spaces opened directly onto the shelter’s main gathering space, with a large table, chairs lining the walls and a scenic mural of trees that stretch up toward the domed ceiling.

“It’s nice,” Jeanie said a couple of months after moving in. “But it’s nothing I want to get used to.”

Their rooms were small, but Jeanie was grateful to be able to close the door and get away from others for a few minutes.

She made up their beds with brightly colored blankets. She taped information about Roger’s never-ending medical appointments to the wall – a wellness exam one week, a cardiology appointment the next. Discharge instructions from a recent emergency room visit were pinned next to reminders about a follow-up visit with a urologist and an appointment at the geriatric center.

Jeanie Cannell stands in an adjoining room she shared with Roger at the York County shelter in September 2023.

Jeanie shows Roger a listing for a small house for rent while they sit outside of the York County shelter.

Jeanie increasingly had appointments of her own to manage, with their caseworker and her own doctors. It was a lot to keep track of and she worried that she would miss something.

“This has really been the toughest road I’ve ever been on,” she said. “I told people I’m just passing through.”

But what they thought would be a short stay soon turned into six months at the shelter.

Roger Cannell watches out the window on March 14 as Jeanie leaves the rehab facility in Kennebunk where he was staying after having surgery to replace his pacemaker in February. Jeanie was living at a nearby hotel in Kennebunk.

Roger made Jeanie promise not to let him die there.


Through the shelter, the Cannells finally had a caseworker, and they thought that would help them find permanent housing. But nothing was panning out, and they were starting to lose hope. They weren’t good readers. They couldn’t navigate computers. So looking for apartments on their own was difficult.

By Christmastime, they were longing for their own space and felt they couldn’t stay at the shelter.

They moved back to the motel in Kennebunk, where they had liked the manager and residents. Jeanie’s sister and brother-in-law, who also were homeless, moved into an adjoining room.

Jeanie’s Social Security had just kicked in, so they had a little more money. She had stopped working in the summer of 2023 so she could take care of Roger.

Roger, 73, spent two weeks in the hospital in February for an infection near his heart. Doctors replaced his pacemaker, and he was discharged with extensive instructions for at-home care.

He returned to the motel briefly. But his recovery was plagued by the same kind of cycle the couple faced trying to find housing. For more than three months, he moved back and forth between the hospital and rehab, one time waiting more than 24 hours on a stretcher in an emergency room hallway until a room opened up.

Jeanie Cannell rubs the spot where her husband Roger’s neck was hurting while visiting him at a rehab facility.

Jeanie spent every minute she could with him. Roger tried to be patient and said he was determined to get better, but sometimes the pain was so overwhelming that all he could do was cry.


Jeanie was feeling optimistic on the first day of April when she pulled up to the Community Outreach Services food pantry in Kennebunk for her usual grocery pickup.

A few months earlier, she had met Mark Jago, who runs the nonprofit pantry and brings meals to the community’s homeless people. He had helped connect Jeanie with the manager of an affordable housing complex in Kennebunk where the Cannells could get an apartment for just 30% of their income – $600 a month.

The plan seemed on track to get an apartment, a first-floor corner unit manageable for Roger in a quiet neighborhood surrounded by woods. Roger was back in the hospital, and Jeanie was waiting to hear when he’d be moved to rehab.

In the meantime, she had errands to run.

A few minutes early for her appointment at the food pantry, she headed inside to talk to the volunteers. The low-slung building next to a playground and baseball field is set up a like a small grocery store. The walls are covered with brightly painted motivational quotes: “Tough times never last but tough people do!” “Believe you can and you’re halfway there. … ”

When it was her time to shop, Jeanie and a volunteer slowly pushed her shopping cart up and down the aisles, choosing things she could cook on an electric burner or in a microwave at the motel. They chatted about what Jeanie likes to cook as she picked out frozen meat and day-old sandwiches donated by Hannaford. She chose the crackers and granola bars that Roger liked the most.

Jeanie and Roger Cannell leave Kennebunk Baptist Church after attending a service together on Sept. 24, 2023.

Jeanie drops off the laundry at the hotel where she was living on April 1 before heading to see Roger at a rehab facility.

After stashing her groceries in her car, Jeanie went back inside to talk to Jago about the apartment. She was feeling anxious – especially since a move-in date hadn’t been set – and wanted reassurance that it would work out.

“I’m hoping it’s something that will excite Roger and will also help get him motivated to do better and get out” of the hospital, Jago said.

“When we get this place, they won’t let Roger go home until we have it all set up,” Jeanie told him. “I’m overwhelmed with all of this. It’s a lot to take in.”

Jago promised Jeanie she would not have to go it alone.


On moving day in mid-April, Jeanie was up early. After getting her keys the day before, she already had moved her clothes from the motel to her new closet and scrubbed away all the dinginess in the bathtub. She and Beccy Jago, Mark Jago’s wife, mopped the floors and wiped out cupboards and drawers, turning the soapy water black.

Jeanie drove to Lyman to meet Mark Jago and a friend of his at the storage unit the Cannells have rented for the past few years. The goal was to pick up their mattresses, bed frames and a few small pieces of furniture, then move bigger stuff the following weekend. Jeanie prayed mice hadn’t chewed up the mattresses, and thankfully they were untouched – though critters had gotten into a few boxes.

Mark Jago hands Jeanie the key to her new apartment in Kennebunk on April 16. Jago, who works for Community Outreach Services in Kennebunk, met the Cannells while volunteering at the hotel they were living in and helped them secure the apartment.

Jeanie shakes out some of her belongings that had been sitting in a storage unit since she and her husband became homeless two years earlier.

Jeanie Cannell carries a load of her and her husband’s clothes into their new apartment on April 16.

She was overwhelmed by the amount of stuff she and Roger had accumulated, things they didn’t need anymore.

“It’s overwhelming, but you don’t eat an elephant in one chunk,” Mark Jago said as he reminded her to “trust the Lord and live simply.”

Over the next two weeks, Jeanie settled into the apartment. She set up the bedrooms and filled Roger’s closet with his clothes. In the living room, she found the best arrangement for the couch and chairs. She unpacked her dishes and put away groceries.

But it was lonely without Roger, who had fallen several times at the rehab center and once more was back in the hospital.

“I’m going through a lot, and if he were to die, I don’t know what I would do,” she said.

In late April, Roger had surgeries on his neck and spine that his doctors hoped would reduce his pain and help him walk without falling.

Roger Cannell sits alone in his hospital room after calling his wife. He found out that afternoon that Jeanie was admitted to a different hospital after feeling dizzy and having consistent migraines.

Jeanie sweeps the bathroom floor of her new apartment.

While he was recovering, Jeanie had a medical emergency of her own and was rushed to the hospital. She spent four days recovering from what doctors told her may have been a ministroke.

A few days after she was released, Roger was transferred to rehab in Portland. When Jeanie went to visit, she sat beside him on the bed, holding a straw to his mouth whenever he wanted water or coffee. At lunch, she mashed his ravioli and broccoli into small bites and fed it to him.

He spoke of seeing the new apartment, eating Jeanie’s homemade meatloaf and mashed potatoes and going for a drive in the mountains.

“My goal is to get these feet moving and get home,” he said.


Roger was back in the hospital a week later. He had pneumonia, and his already fragile health was declining. Jeanie said he was put on a ventilator after he basically died for 11 minutes and then was revived by CPR.

She came to visit every day, sitting with him in a quiet critical care room. Sunlight streamed through the tall windows.

Jeanie walks to the chair she spent the last week sitting in by her husband’s side. Roger was brought to the hospital from rehab after suffering from shortness of breath. He was diagnosed with pneumonia and aspirated the following day because he had difficulty swallowing. They performed CPR, and he was left on a ventilator.

Jeanie cries in Roger’s hospital room on May 23 while talking on the phone with his daughters, who had come to see him the previous weekend while he was unconscious. Roger was now breathing on his own, but the couple had decided that he would not be put back on a ventilator or have CPR performed.

She forced herself to go home at night, but she couldn’t sleep without him.

On May 22, Jeanie sat curled up in a chair in the corner of the room to text updates to Roger’s children. His two daughters – including Margaret, who lived with them in the van – had come up from West Virginia to see him a few days earlier. His son had driven down from Bangor.

When Roger stirred, Jeanie was by his side, using a wet washcloth to gently rub his forehead and wipe his dry lips. His eyes stayed locked on her, his lips moving around the tube in his mouth like he was trying to talk.

“You’re my buddy, huh? I love you,” she said, slipping her hand into his. “You’ll be all right.”

Jeanie had recently put up a screened tent in the small yard next to the apartment. She hoped Roger would be strong enough to come home and sit outside like he’d always loved to do. She dreamed of bringing him on a whale watch like the one they’d gone on two years ago.

“I’m still looking at the good,” she said. “This guy has been through a lot, but I look at where he’s at. He’s awake.”

Doctors told Jeanie that they’d try to take Roger off the ventilator on May 23. She had hard decisions to make about what to do if that didn’t go well. She was putting her faith in God, she said. “You’re never promised tomorrow.”

Jeanie Cannell cries as she rests her head on her husband, Roger, on May 25. The hospital called Jeanie that morning and said Roger had taken a turn for the worse overnight. Later that day, they decided to remove him from oxygen and make him as comfortable as possible.

Three days later, a doctor called Jeanie at home to say there was nothing left to do except keep Roger comfortable. She rushed to the hospital where Roger lay peacefully in bed, drifting in and out of sleep.

“I ain’t going nowhere,” Jeanie told him.

Mark Jago holds the speaker up to Roger’s ear on May 25 so he can hear the hymns playing from his phone, while Jeanie Cannell holds her husband’s hand and buries her face into his bed. Roger passed away an hour and a half later, at 6:19 p.m., two days before his 74th birthday.

When Mark Jago arrived, he leaned close and told Roger not to worry about Jeanie, that he would watch out for her. He held his phone next to Roger’s ear and played hymns. Roger smiled up at them as “All is Well With My Soul” filled the room.

For hours, Jeanie sat by Roger’s side, reassuring him when he was alert and holding her phone close to his face so his children could say goodbye. In the moments when she was overcome by grief, she’d rest her head on the bed and quietly cry.

Roger died at 6:19 p.m. on May 25, two days before his 74th birthday, before he ever got to see their new home. Jeanie was by his side, holding his hand, just like always.

Jeanie Cannell lies on the couch at her apartment on what would’ve been her husband Roger’s 74th birthday. The crocheted prayer shawl his children brought him is draped over the couch behind her. Jeanie said she felt exhausted. She was overwhelmed with messages and thoughts of calling funeral homes and planning a service.

Margaret Belanger, Roger Cannell’s daughter, holds Jeanie’s daughter, Amy McDermott, as she cries at Roger’s celebration of life at Kennebunk Baptist Church on June 15.

Sue Dean, a Kennebunk Baptist Church parishioner, embraces Jeanie Cannell as she cries toward the end of the celebration of life for her husband, Roger, on June 15.

Jeanie Cannell pulls her husband’s urn out to place it on a table at their apartment after picking his ashes up from the funeral home in June.

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