Bath center sees spike in number of homeless youth it serves
The Midcoast Youth Center is also seeing an increase in anxiety among youth due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
BY KATHLEEN O’BRIENTIMES RECORD
The Midcoast Youth Center in Bath is now assisting 47 homeless youth, nearly double the 24 homeless youth the center was helping about two months ago, according to its founder, Jamie Dorr, and that number is expected to rise.
The center, based in the Bath Youth Meetinghouse and Skatepark, serves local students ages 10-24 and provides free resources such as after-school programs, adult mentors, homework clubs and activities, snacks and hot meals, as well as clothing and school supplies. The center also connects students in need with resources such as healthcare, mental health support or substance use treatment.
Dorr said the number of homeless youth served by the center is expected to rise as the academic year continues and reach as many as 100.
Between 2017-2019, 193 students experienced homelessness in Sagadahoc County, according to a report released at the time.
According to the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, Maine had an estimated 2,552 public school students experiencing homelessness during the 2018-2019 academic year. Of those, an estimated 428 homeless youth in Maine are unaccompanied. The council also estimated there were another 139 young adults ages 18-24 experiencing homelessness in Maine during the 2018-2019 academic year.
Donna Verhoeven, youth outreach coordinator for the Merrymeeting Homeless Youth Project, told The Times Record the center tries to remove barriers for students experiencing homelessness so they feel comfortable at school. This means the center can help students by buying new clothing, taking them to medical appointments, get a haircut or have access to a shower.
“Each week we’re adding new students to our support services and, with this fundraising, we’re able to move forward with a plan to hire a part-time youth outreach coordinator to make sure youth are receiving help in a timely fashion,” Dorr said. “It’s so exciting to see that financial support make an immediate difference.”
COVID causing anxiety with youth
About 50 local students visit the center every day, according to Dorr. In 2020, the center served 550 local students.
Dorr said recently she’s witnessed more students looking to talk through growing anxiety around the COVID-19 pandemic.
“COVID-19 cases are rising, mask mandates are coming back, some schools are closing and that all creates a lot of anxiety for our youth because they start to worry that things are going to go back to what it was when the pandemic first arrived,” said Dorr. “We do a lot of reassurance that hopefully this is a short-term spike in cases and things will go down in the near future and schools are working as hard as they can to stay open.”
According to a 2021 report from the Maine Department of Education, a survey of about 400 Maine school employees noted increases in both symptoms of anxiety — 90.2% of respondents — and symptoms of depression — 88.9% of respondents — as well as “other mental health symptoms” (64% of respondents) among students during the COVID-19 pandemic.
When students fear another COVID-19 case in their school could be the one that causes the school to pivot to fully remote learning again, Dorr said that fear has made the time students spend together at the center all the more important.
“Right now, we’re focusing on making sure everyone stays healthy, has something to eat if they’re hungry, and having a good time together,” said Dorr. “We’re focusing on basics and trying to get through a difficult winter and difficult time for COVID-19.”
Community support comes through
Morse High School junior Braeden Webber, 16, of Bath started going to the Bath Skatepark after school to spend time with friends years ago. He met Dorr through the center she founded and is now participating in a pilot internship program at the center where he works at the front desk, spends time with younger students, and does small tasks for the center.
Webber said he considers the youth center “my home away from home” because of the caring people who dedicate their time to serving local students. He said he’s excited the youth center was able to exceed its fundraising goal to “help kids learn, give them new opportunities in life, teach them to serve their community.”
Those opportunities got a large boost recently when the center nearly tripled an initial $25,000 fundraising goal, bringing in over $73,000.
The center received $73,586 from 93 community donors when the nonprofit’s “25to50” fundraiser wrapped up on Jan. 1, according to Dorr. The youth center also received $10,000 from “several community members and local businesses,” which the organization uses to purchase clothing, personal hygiene supplies, and other essentials for youth experiencing homelessness, Dorr said.
The nonprofit launched its “25to50” fundraiser after an anonymous donor pledged to match all donations the youth center receives up to $25,000 before the end of 2021. Donations poured in, smashing the organization’s initial goal, so it set a new one: $50,000 from the community, which would total $75,000 with the matching donation.
Dorr said he feels confident that the nonprofit can continue serving local students no matter what the COVID-19 pandemic throws its way.
“We’re always so touched by the support of our community and how generous our community is when they hear of a need,” said Dorr. “We’re so grateful because this is going to ensure that our services and programs can continue.”