We think we know who “the homeless” are. We picture them on city streets with their bags, knapsacks, and shopping carts, haggard, unwashed, and sometimes scary. Perhaps we toss a dollar or two into a cup or outstretched hand, or sometimes instead we cross the street and look away.

But maybe, just maybe, we are wrong. Homelessness has become so widespread it is hard to pigeonhole people experiencing homelessness based on old stereotypes, especially in a rural state like Maine.

At a recent meeting of the state’s Mid Coast Region Homeless Response Service Hub (which covers Waldo, Knox, Lincoln and Sagadahoc counties, as well as Brunswick and Harpswell), one service provider talked about the number of families he was seeing who were working, some making $70,000-$80,000 a year, but now at risk of or experiencing homelessness.

This same state-sponsored group currently identifies 135 Midcoast families with children staying in motels or shelters as well as 111 unaccompanied, unhoused youth. They have no count of the youth and families couch-surfing, doubled up with friends and family, living in their vehicles, or settling for substandard housing, often without adequate utilities.

Closer to home, this year the Belfast General Assistance Office has placed 15 families with children in local motels, and there is currently a wait list of seven families, including 10 children. Aside from shelters for women fleeing domestic violence, there are no homeless shelters for families in Waldo County and no shelters for homeless youth.

Since 2007, November has been designated National Homeless Youth Awareness Month. Last year Sens. Susan Collins and Joe Manchin championed a unanimous U.S. Senate resolution declaring the month National Homeless Children and Youth Awareness Month to bring attention to the 1.4 million children experiencing homelessness in America.

This November, four Belfast nonprofits have come together to raise awareness about youth and family homelessness in the Midcoast. Belfast Soup Kitchen and Waldo Community Action Partners, two well-known local agencies, are joined in this by newcomers But Still I Am One, providing services to unhoused or home-insecure young adults ages 16 to 21 in Waldo County, and new startup, Family Promise of MidCoast Maine, supporting local congregations in providing temporary shelter for families experiencing homelessness.

You will see media coverage of this issue and bright green posters in area businesses and gathering places informing the community about homelessness. A community conversation on homelessness at the Belfast Soup Kitchen on Saturday, Nov. 19, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., will feature artist and storyteller Valerie Porter and a display of artwork and essays by students at Searsport District High School, Waldo County Technical Center, and Mount View High School in which they imagine what it would be like to be homeless. A conversation facilitated by local arts activist Larraine Brown will explore homelessness in our area and possible local solutions.

In support of the services offered by these four local agencies serving homeless youth and families, three area restaurants will donate a portion of their proceeds on consecutive days to be split among the four sponsoring nonprofits: Anglers Restaurant in Searsport from 4 to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 15; Darby’s Restaurant in Belfast from 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 16; and Nautilus Restaurant in Belfast from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 17. Volunteers will be available at each restaurant to answer questions and offer more information.

Find out more and learn how you can help make a difference to youth and families at risk of or experiencing homelessness here in our community.

Robert Johansen is the board chair of Family Promise of MidCoast Maine.