Marshall and Amber Shepherd with Ryan, left, a student they hosted through Housing Resources for Youth. Contributed / Marshall Shepherd.

Marshall and Amber Shepherd of Harpswell have hosted two teenagers over the past three years who otherwise had no place to live.

Working with the nonprofit Housing Resources for Youth in Topsham, the couple ushered one of the boys through high school graduation and the other toward college. It was a tremendous experience for the teens and for his family, according to Marshall Shepherd.

With the number of homeless teens on the rise, HRY is looking for more host families in the Midcoast to house students in need, help them with their homework and make sure they get to school, said Pam Gormley, executive director.

“The single largest factor for a homeless adult is not completing high school – 100% of our students (go on to) complete high school,” Gormley said.

Ryan, the Shepherds’ HRY student, at his high school graduation, with Amber Shepherd and Thea and Kit Shepherd. Contributed / Marshall Shepherd

Students stay with host families anywhere from a couple of weeks until they find more permanent accommodations or for a whole school year or longer.

“Anyone who has the heart to do this, we would welcome,” Gormley said.


The youth are paired with hosts that will best meet their specific needs, she said. HRY staff is involved in helping the youth adjust to their host homes, offers financial support when it can and connects them to other useful resources, she said.

In recent years, the need has increased. “We would have maybe 10 or 12 (students) prior to COVID,” Gormley said, “and now it’s up to 23 last year.”

The Shepherds signed on to host a student a few months before the pandemic set in. They wanted to offer a safe place for a teen as well as give their own young children the opportunity to learn from someone older and see that families come in all forms.

“Family isn’t just who you’re born into — it’s who you choose to make part of your family,” Marshall Shepherd said.

“We started with an 18-year-old at Morse High School,” Shepherd said. “He moved in and was incredibly sweet.”

The teen stayed with the Shepherds for a year.


“We helped him graduate high school and get his license,” Shepherd said.

The teen was the first person in his own family to get a high school diploma, Shepherd said, and now he has his own apartment and owns a car.

“We meet up every once in a while for coffee,” Shepherd said.

The family then welcomed another teen to stay with them for about two years, and he now studies in the culinary program at Southern Maine Community College. He stays in touch with the Shepherds, too, and updates them about his classes and dorm life.

Having an adult who recognizes their accomplishments is so important to the youth in the HYR program, Shepherd said.

“They just so desperately want someone to be proud of them,” he said.


A sad part of the experience for him was realizing that “the kids that live with us have been in this constant state of being afraid of being kicked out” for as little as dropping a plate or failing a test, he said.

Almost every student HYR works with has been neglected, abandoned or abused, or struggles with addiction or mental health issues, their own or a family member’s, Gormley said.

Shepherd said he and his wife are trained foster parents, but because of the age-out policy and because the foster system is overwhelmed, there’s not a lot of focus on finding foster care homes for teenagers.

HRY has no age-out policy, and is involved in helping young people in their late teens and early 20s transition to the workforce or college and be able to be independent adults.

“We want them to have a chance at adulthood,” Gormley said. “We don’t want them to be chronically homeless.”

To learn more about the process of becoming a host for HRY, contact

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