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South Portland sees drastic increase in homeless students as coronavirus pandemic continues

South Portland Superintendent Ken Kunin said there are usually about 30-40 students experiencing homelessness, but now it's more than 100.

SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — "We always have homeless students," South Portland Superintendent Ken Kunin said.

He added that there are usually about 30-40 homeless students throughout the district each year, but this year it has increased drastically.

"This year, year to date, it's well over 100," Kunin said. "It's absolutely related to the disruption and the dislocation caused by the pandemic and the economic crisis."

The South Portland School District like so many across the state is learning in a hybrid model. Kunin said the district tries to get students who are experiencing homelessness in the schools as much as possible, while also offering internet hotspots on remote days so they can follow along.

Kunin added the district is also working with local organizations that provide food and shelter to these students, organizations like South Portland Food Cupboard.

The food cupboard is also seeing an increase of folks utilizing its services.

Dwyane Hopkins is the executive director of the South Portland Food Cupboard. He said many people are now starting to see unemployment benefits run out. He adds he and his team are also hearing that some people in South Portland are becoming homeless at this time and said the food cupboard has items specifically for people in this situation.

"We have foods that do not have to be cooked, that do not require can openers," Hopkins said.

Hopkins said community members have stepped up and donated to the South Portland Food Cupboard, so it can help community members in need.

We checked in with other school districts across the state to see if this is something others are experiencing. Bangor and Brewer both said they are not seeing this trend. 

In Portland, a spokesperson for the district said in an email, "We have had a small increase. We currently have 205 students identified as homeless. On this date last year, the number was 191. Our total student population is 6,500 students."