LEEDS — The Nancy Boggan Murphy Family Center isn’t your typical homeless shelter.

With stainless steel appliances in its spacious kitchen, an abundance of natural light, and a warm, inviting atmosphere, the family shelter looks almost like it might be found in a typical middle-class family home.

Children play with toys in the living room, or outside on the back deck when the weather is warm. And at night, the adults prepare dinner for themselves and their kids.

Located in Leeds, the Nancy Boggan Murphy Family Center is the only shelter of its kind aimed at supporting homeless families and expectant mothers in Androscoggin County. And as of Monday, for the first time since it opened in March of 2021, the shelter is full to capacity.

The shelter is one of four run by Rumford Group Homes, a nonprofit organization focused on providing housing and other resources for families in need. They also operate two shelters in Rumford and one in Norway.

Previously, the shelter was a crisis center for youth. As the organization began renovating the building, however, they realized it would make more sense to reopen it as a family shelter.


In one room, a mother has pushed two beds together for her and her two young daughters to sleep side-by-side. Christmas lights and posters adorn the bedroom walls, and the girls’ toys lay scattered around the floor next to a small Christmas tree.

Michelle Worthley, director of homeless services at the Nancy Boggan Murphy Family Center in Leeds, stands Monday in the newly finished common kitchen, which is available for all residents to use. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

Michelle Worthley, the director of homeless services, works from an office in the Leeds shelter most days. But by and large, guests live independently, completing their assigned chores by 10 a.m. every morning.

Of the 13 people staying at the shelter, seven are kids and teenagers. One, a week-old infant, has known no other home.

Most of the shelter’s guests come from the Lewiston and Auburn area, with the greatest number of referrals coming from Auburn, according to Rumford Group Homes Executive Director Melissa McEntee.

Audrey and Tim Smiley have lived in the Leeds shelter for the past week with their 16-year-old daughter, a student at Spruce Mountain High School in Jay, and their two service dogs.

“I love it,” Audrey Smiley said. “It’s really nice; everybody is really friendly … we’re all in the same (situation).”


Both Audrey and Tim Smiley receive disability, and they have a Section 8 voucher to help pay rent. Still, Audrey said it’s been difficult to find a unit which accepts both Section 8 and dogs.

They were living in a Lewiston hotel for the last year, but the federal relief aid funding the emergency housing program is set to run out this month, leaving thousands of Maine families scrambling for alternatives.


For the first time in a year, Audrey Smiley was able to cook for her family at the Leeds shelter, something she loves to do. While living in the hotel, she only had access to a microwave.

“I made a couple of meals here, and it feels so good,” she said.

Audrey Smiley sits Monday in the common living room of the Nancy Boggan Murphy Family Center in Leeds. A child also residing in the facility plays with Spot, one of Smiley’s family therapy dogs. Smiley says she found everyone so easy to talk to at the shelter and is grateful to have her family with her. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

Beyond housing, Rumford Family Homes also helps connects guests with mental health, substance abuse and employment resources. Staff help the parents get jobs or further their education, while helping to make sure their kids continue to make to it school each day.


The Leeds community has been very supportive of the new shelter, McEntee said. Local residents deliver food weekly through a local church, and additionally provide help with transportation.

Last year, the organization housed 74 families across its four shelters — but there are always more in need.

Currently, there are 30 people waiting for a spot at one of their shelters.

McEntee said their selection process is “basically a triage,” noting that they’ll prioritize those who are most in need.

Getting housing vouchers for shelter guests isn’t difficult, she said. Finding landlords willing to accept Section 8 rental assistance is, however.

Due to the affordable housing shortage, families are staying at Rumford Group Homes’ shelters for longer periods. On average, it takes about six months for a family to find housing.


“We’re spending more and more time helping families search for housing than we ever have before,” McEntee said.

It doesn’t help that the competitive housing market allows landlords to charge high rents, often a couple hundred dollars more than the Section 8 vouchers provide, she added.

“We’re finding a lot of people priced out of what the vouchers will pay, which has been difficult, and we’re finding a huge shortage of available units,” McEntee said. “No matter where we look, we’re just not finding anything for people.”

Beyond families, Rumford Group Homes is also seeing a rise in the number of elderly and LGBTQ+, especially transgender, individuals in need of housing. Worthley said the shelters are always in need of personal hygiene products, like shampoos and sanitary pads for women.

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