“If you don’t know where you’re putting your slippers at night, you can’t do algebra,” said Mary Seaman, director of the Lewiston High School STEP Program, following the documentary debut of “Homeless Youth in Lewiston” on January 17 at Lewiston City Hall.
The 30-minute documentary was produced by the Lewiston Youth Advisory Council (LYAC) to build awareness about the approximately 200 homeless youth in Lewiston. Before the video was shown, LYAC members shared what an eye-opening experience making the documentary had been. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, one out of every three homeless persons are under the age of 18, and nationwide, over 1.6 million people under age 18 experience homelessness each year.
The documentary featured Kat Borghoff and Kendra Sprague, both previously homeless teens, who received life-changing support from New Beginnings and Volunteers of America Northern New England. Borghoff and Sprague shared elements of their personal journeys, which included living in a car and sleeping on a kitchen floor.
The documentary also included Bob Rowe, executive director of New Beginnings, and Jamie Caouette, homeless academic liaison of the Lewiston High School STEP Program, who discussed reasons for youth homelessness while outlining resources available in the community to assist homeless youth. Many homeless youth leave home after years of physical and sexual abuse, strained relationships, addiction of a family member, or parental neglect. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, disruptive family conditions are the principal reason that young people leave home.
In the film, youth council members also shared their reaction to hearing what Borghoff and Sprague have endured and stressed the film’s theme of “What You Can Do” at its close.
The documentary and presentation received a standing ovation, and audience members and LYAC shared their thoughts after the film. Those attending stressed the importance of reaching out to others and using our voice to start talking about homelessness, to let others know about community resources, and to share what was heard in the documentary.
Special guests at the event were Governor Paul LePage, who shared recollections about his own homelessness and “couch surfing” as a youth and praised the youth council for addressing this concern. He was accompanied by Department of Health & Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew and Senior Health Advisor John Bott. Mayhew discussed available resources and the effectiveness of working to address such issues on a community basis. Lewiston City Councilors Mark Cayer, Craig Saddlemire and John Butler were also in attendance. Butler serves as the City Council’s liaison to the Youth Advisory Council.
Donations for New Beginnings and the Lewiston High School STEP Program were accepted at the event. In addition, LYAC Chair Kon Maiwan announced that copies of the documentary will be sold in the near future, with proceeds to be split between the two entities.