LEWISTON, Maine — Hoshea Muyderman introduced himself to an audience at a Bates College forum on homeless youths Thursday night as an alumnus of New Beginnings, a Lewiston-based nonprofit that serves more than 700 homeless youths each year.
November is National Runaway Homeless Youth month. Each year, some 7,500 youths in Maine spend at least one night homeless, surviving out of the public eye.
Muyderman, 31, of Greene was one of those statistics. Today he’s a success story.
At age 12, he came to New Beginnings’ emergency shelter.
“My mom kicked me out of the house,” he said. He went into state custody and ended up living at New Beginnings’ group home until he was 21.
“They gave me tools I still use today, things your parents are supposed to show you,” Muyderman told the Harward Center’s Civic Forum. “How to pay bills, shop for groceries.”
He added, “The deal was you worked or went to school. I went to school.”
He received training to become a youth facilitator and helped others.
He took advantage of New Beginnings’ outreach center, a place to hang out after school and stay out of trouble. It helped him stay focused on his education. He stayed in school and went to college. Later, he traveled through Europe, lived in Hawaii and worked as a stand-up comedian.
Today, he’s a father and works as a chef.
“Honestly, if these programs at New Beginnings didn’t exist, I don’t know where I would be today,” Muyderman said. Not all homeless youths take advantage of tools they’re provided.
“A lot of my friends, some of them are dead, overdosed on drugs,” he said. “A few are in jail.”
He credits his success to New Beginnings and his decision to stay in school. “Education was important from a very young age,” he said. “It gives you options.”
His friends who didn’t make it failed because they dropped out of school, he said.
Robert Rowe, executive director of New Beginnings, told the Bates audience that Maine’s homeless youth problem is a solvable one.
Young adults who are homeless often can’t live at home because of abuse, neglect or mental illness in their families. Homeless youths are often invisible in communities.
“They work very hard not to be seen,” Rowe said. They are vulnerable, deserve help and have assets to offer society, he said.
New Beginnings is in demand, struggles to keep up with needs and is expanding, Rowe said.
The good news is that programs, including school-based services for homeless students, are making a difference, said panelist Cindy Carraway-Wilson, director of Training for Youth Catalytics, formerly the New England Network.
When services are available, youths often come off the street and get help.
Of the homeless students in school, 49 percent are meeting or exceeding grade expectations for reading, 42 percent are meeting or exceeding grade level in math. Considering the problems they have to deal with, “that’s pretty good,” she said.
Panelists said average people can help homeless youths by being aware there are some who can’t live with their families, who couch surf or depend on group homes.
Kids he went to school with had no idea of his situation, Muyderman said. Understanding “and a little help from your friends” would have helped.
Carraway-Wilson said adults often see young people on the street and avoid them.
“Make eye contact. Talk to them,” she said. Connections help. “They’re not there to hurt anyone.”
Muyderman agreed. “They’re scared,” he said.