BATH

“I wasn’t always the most respectful kid.”

As an unaccompanied high school student in an “unstable living situation,” Malwahte — a student at Morse High School — is considered homeless by the state.

Malwahte is what the teen calls his tribal name — not the name he uses in school, at work or among friends. The Times Record agreed to preserve his anonymity to protect his identity in the community.

In some sense, he’s not really a boy any longer. He’s 18 years old now and is finishing high school in Bath.

He attends classes in a special technical program funded by the U.S. Department of Labor, and says his plans are to go to New England Tech, where he hopes to continue learning metalworking and welding, perhaps to return to Bath and get a job at Bath Iron Works.

He acknowledges many of the problems that landed him without a home were his fault. Yet some were not.

Malwahte said he is part Micmac-Maliseet and is beginning to explore that part of his heritage, but he’s also closely tied to a Celtic heritage from his mother. A necklace of symbols — some Micmac, some Celtic — reminds him of all the things he considers important.

Meeting Malwahte for the first time, he gives the impression of a kid who’s old beyond his years.

He also seems like he’s got his act together. He has a job, is doing well in school and maintains relationships with his mother, co-workers and friends.

He is a spiritual person. He is involved in some extracurricular activities to bulk up his college applications. He dresses like every other high school student.

And he’s homeless.

Leaving home

Malwahte loves his mother dearly, but said he can’t live with her.

After some adolescent behavior such as smoking tobacco and drinking alcohol, he finally got caught, not only by his parents, but also by the Bath Police. The offenses were all minor, and wouldn’t have been illegal if he were a little older.

But for his stepfather — who hadn’t gotten along with Malwahte for years — it was the last straw.

The stepfather issued an ultimatum, putting his mother in an impossible situation. Either end a marriage she was happy in, or move her teenaged son out.

His mother chose her marriage. Malwahte was 17 at the time.

“I know parents aren’t supposed to do that, pick their husband over their children,” he said. “But I can understand. She was just finally getting to be happy in her life. I figured I could go and live with my dad and it would be OK.”

But things didn’t work out with his father, either. They had something of a stormy relationship, beginning with an early memory of his dad nearly dying from a drug overdose when Malwahte was 3.

“I was crying, ‘Daddy, don’t die!’ My dad came to, and he saw me crying, and he went sober after that.”

Malwahte says nearly everything wrong with his life stemmed from drugs and alcohol.

Although his father was sober, his father’s friends weren’t, and his dad didn’t set limits for them with his young son.

Malwahte said he was hit and otherwise abused by some of these men — a practice that continued until Malwahte was old enough, big enough and had enough martial arts training to defend himself.

On the other hand, he and his father shared a love for metalworking, and his father respected the items that Malwahte made, including weapons for martial arts training.

After an argument several months ago, Malwahte moved out of his father’s home.

He says they talk from time to time now.

Malwahte moved in with the grandmother of a friend, whom he calls Nana.

Nana told him he is welcome to stay until he finishes high school. She’s been more than helpful, he says, often picking him up from work and driving him home.

When he’d been there a few days, his mother called and said her husband was willing to have him back in the house. However, when his mother came to pick him up at work that day, she broke down in tears and told Malwahte that her husband had agreed only because he felt pressured to agree, and that he didn’t really want the boy back in the house.

“How could he know I’d really grown up?” he said rhetorically. “I’m sure he thought I’d be back and within a couple of days we’d be butting heads again.”

Malwahte decided to stay where he was, and he and his mother agreed to see one another often.

He is expecting to lose the job he has held since the beginning of the summer due to lack of work within a few days, but has been told his layoff will give him at least some unemployment insurance.

Finding support

As an unaccompanied high school student with an “unstable living situation,” Malwahte is officially considered homeless by the state — one of hundreds of children and adolescents in Mid-coast Maine who fit that criterion, according to shelter officials and others in the social service community.

Malwahte gets MaineCare, but will lose his benefits when he graduates from high school, since he is now legally an adult. His father, who had qualified for MaineCare because he had a “dependent” son, will lose his benefits at the same time.

Malwahte will then have to reapply and hope the program accepts him, or get care through the insurance exchanges, where he will likely qualify for a large subsidy given his age and status.

He should also be able to obtain some other kinds of support services, such as food stamps, but because he is still listed as a dependent by his family, he can’t get the benefits on his own yet.

Malwahte is getting help from his school guidance counselor, Leslie Trundy, who has been helping him with getting scholarships and federal college funding through different grant programs.

She’s also sensitive to the fact that Malwahte is homeless, and needs additional resources and accommodations from the school.

“He’s a great kid,” she said. “He’s on track to finish school with his class and move on to bigger and better things.”

Malwahte is also getting some assistance from a program called the Merrymeeting Project — part of the Tedford Shelter which works with homeless youths in three school districts: Regional School Unit 1, mostly from Morse High School; School Administrative District 75, mostly from Mt. Ararat High School; and Brunswick High School.

In any given year, there are 60 to 70 of homeless youths obtaining services from these three districts, officials said.

Donna Verhoeven is working under a grant to Tedford Shelter to work with kids like Malwahte.

“I help them get the assistance they need to stay safe,” she said. “And to stay in school.”

She said that kids like Malwahte are “persistent.”

“Those are the ones I see,” she acknowledged. “They’re the ones who are still in school.”

Others, she says, have already dropped out, or are in a cycle of working for a while, going to school for a while, or getting a GED instead of a diploma.

In the meantime, she said, kids like Malwahte are trying to live in multiple worlds.

“They’re in the regular adult world of working, trying to keep a living situation, getting food, getting transportation, and so on,” she said. “But they’re also still kids, and they want to maintain friendships and relationships and after school activities, in part so no one knows about their situation, but in part because they are still kids, and they want to be kids.”

Many of them are also trying to continue some kind of relationship with their birth families, even if they are estranged.

Malwahte says he sees his mother as often as he can.

“I love my mother, and I want her to be happy,” he said. “I’m polite to my stepfather, but he and I don’t have much to say to one another.”

Having a plan

Despite a less than ideal upbringing, as a young adult, he said he knows it is up to him alone to make his way in the world.

“I want to finish my education, get a good job and my own place,” he said.

He’s already bought a used truck that he’s learning to drive on private property. But he doesn’t have a license yet, nor is the vehicle registered or insured.

All these are expenses Malwahte can’t afford in either time or money right now.

But having a plan for the future is something Trundy says is key for success.

“It’s too easy for them to fall into the trap of not coming to school because it’s too far away, or too hard,” she said. “Malwahte shows up and does his best because he knows where he wants to be in five years, and it’s not a life on the street.”

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