The public is invited to attend a forum on youth homelessness, a growing yet largely hidden problem in the Topsham/Brunswick/Bath area. Two forums will be held at the Topsham Public Library on the following:
Wednesday, September 28 from 6-8 p.m.
Thursday, October 20 from 6-8 p.m.
Both forums are free and open to the public. The events are being organized by the Frontline Committee of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Brunswick, St. Charles/All Saints Parish, and the Ad Hoc Homeless Student Housing Group. The forums were made possible through a grant from the Episcopal Diocese of Maine.
- The September 28th forum, featuring speakers and a panel discussion, focuses on the challenges facing many youth in the area. Speakers include: Jim Howard, a local businessman who experienced homelessness as a youth; Donna Verhoeven with Tedford Housing’s Homeless Youth-Merrymeeting Project; staff from each of the three local school districts; Jane Scease, a member of the Ad Hoc Homeless Student Housing Group; and a teen who will share personal experiences on being homeless.
- The October 20 event will explore community models for addressing teen homelessness. The keynote address will be delivered by Patricia Julianelle, an expert with the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth. Julianelle, has written about different programs/models used around the country to address youth homeless and will also discuss local legislative and legal barriers to helping homeless teens.
The forums are aimed at raising awareness about teen homelessness and beginning conversations about ways to provide safe housing to homeless teens.
Youth homelessness is a growing problem in Maine and nationwide, although teens’ ability to “act normal” in school despite turbulent personal lives makes the issue difficult to track and to address. Instead of sleeping on the street in full view of others, many homeless youth are chronic “couch surfers” drifting from place to place, some of which may be unsafe or unhealthy environments. Others live in tents and cars or find their way to the region’s only teen shelters in Portland and Lewiston.
- Brunswick School District officials recently estimated that between 30 and 40 students in the town’s public schools were homeless in February 2016, up from just six students eight years ago.
- In the three area high schools, there were 37 high school students, 2 of which were homeless with a single parent, the remaining 34 were homeless unaccompanied youth with 2 in teen shelters.
There is growing awareness in schools and the wider community about the problem, as reflected by the staff devoted to the issue in many school districts. While schools already offer services to homeless youth such as food pantries or laundry, finding safe, adequate housing remains the biggest issue.
“I believe this is a direct impact of a decrease in available resources; from human services to housing and a livable wage, said Donna Verhoeven, Merrymeeting Project Homeless Youth coordinator who works directly with teens in the schools, “My hope for the future of the education of homeless youth and families, is that success is not measured in the passing from grade to grade, but in the passing through adverse conditions to education that has future meaning.”
While the organizers of the Topsham forums understand the complexities involved, they hope to add momentum to programs already underway as they address the most difficult problem: providing safe housing to homeless teens.
For more information, please call 207-319-4993.