Preventing youth from becoming unhoused

One of the most important things we can do for young people experiencing difficult, unsafe, or unstable situations is to find alternative options to entering emergency shelter. The impact of diverting youth from spending even just one night in a shelter bed can make a significant impact over their lifetime.

“Once someone accesses emergency shelter, their likelihood of being homeless longer-term increases as well as the number of times they become unhoused over their lifetime,” shares Kiersten Mulcahy, Director of Teen Shelter Services. “It’s almost never just one night.”

When a young person or a person connected to them reaches out to Preble Street, staff work through an assessment, asking a list of questions to help the person who needs help find a safe
place to stay and determine where the best place for them is to be in the immediate future. The purpose of this assessment is to prevent someone from ever accessing emergency shelter if there is a safer alternative. With time, staff can work with the young person to find long-term solutions, like a supportive relative who may live out-of-state or transitional housing.

In FY23 and FY24, staff at the Teen Shelter have diverted approximately 58% of monthly youth referrals from shelter into alternative situations.

“There are not long-term systems in place for kids who fall through the cracks and who then become homeless. We have a lack of foster families and a significant lack of group homes,” says Mulcahy. “Young people need more alternative placements to mental health facilities, corrections facilities, or homeless shelters. Yes, of course, we will provide whatever supports we can to youth in need, but an emergency shelter is not meant to be a permanent ‘home’ for children under age 18.”

If you know a young person who is or may become unhoused, there are resources available. Schools are federally mandated by The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 1987 to provide support. Preble Street has a McKinney-Vento liaison on staff who works directly with school districts in York and Cumberland county to help administrators understand the landscape of resources available to students experiencing homelessness.

Other solutions for youth in Maine

More than 350 young people across Maine receive support from Preble Street Teen Services each year through several resources:

  • The Preble Street Teen Center is the hub of services for homeless and runaway youth ages 12 through 20. This low-barrier drop-in center, located in Portland, ME, helps to meet immediate needs — providing warmth and safety, case management and counseling services, nutritious meals from the on-site soup kitchen, laundry and clothing, crisis intervention, and education and employment services.
  • Maine’s largest youth shelter with 28 beds, the Joe Kreisler Teen Shelter offers a safe place for homeless and runaway youth ages 12 through 20. The Teen Shelter offers a full range of services to assist young people in making plans to stay off the street, and coordinates supports with the Preble Street Teen Center, located right across the street.
  • Serving eleven out of sixteen Maine counties, Preble Street Teen Outreach caseworkers provide intensive, short-term services to rapidly resolve periods of homelessness in the community that a youth would want to stay in. Preble Street has traditional Street Outreach for youth in York and Cumberland counties, including walking routes through urban hubs. We also work in close partnership with local schools to ensure connections and support for students experiencing homelessness.
  • Preble Street Teen Housing programs provide youth and young adults experiencing homelessness with supportive services and a safe place to live as they work toward the skills needed to independently sustain housing. We offer multiple pathways to housing, including
    Transitional Living Programs, Transitional Housing, Rapid Re-Housing, and housing vouchers with supportive services. This flexibility allows us to work with youth with varying needs for support.

Volunteers like Matt and Kim play a vital
role in ensuring that youth enjoy nutritious
and delicious meals at breakfast, lunch, and
dinner at the Preble Street Teen Center. Matt
shares that “volunteering gives me a feeling of
connection to Portland that I never expected. I
want to contribute to the health and happiness
of my community, and I leave every Preble
Street shift feeling it was the most meaningful
thing I could have done with those few hours
of my week.”

How can you help?

  • Be a safe place for the young people in your life
  • Advocate for laws and policies that address the root causes of youth homelessness, such as generational poverty and a lack of support for youth aging out of foster care
  • Volunteer with Preble Street. We have year-round opportunities at the Preble Street Teen Center or learn more about how you be a part of the Preble Street Teen Services team at the 2024 TD Bank Beach to Beacon on August 3 in Cape Elizabeth. Visit for more information.

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