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Manteca High senior ‘s home sometimes is a 2000 Geo Metro

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Neal Plymate, 18, has a positive attitude despite being homeless in Manteca. He currently stays with a stepsister in town but on occasion has lived out of his car while working side jobs and going ...

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin/

POSTED November 24, 2013 6:14 p.m.

It was over two years ago that Neal Plymate ran away from home.

He was living in Oregon at the time. But family friction caused him to bolt from Beaverton to Portland at the end of his sophomore year in high school.

Plymate found his way to a shelter for runaways. He moved briefly in with a girlfriend only to be kicked out on the streets of the big city by her parents. He was armed with a few knives from his collection, sleeping where ever possible as part of his month-stay in Portland.

“My (step) sister gave me money to come out to California. I figured ‘why not’ since things weren’t working out here,” Plymate recalled on Friday.

A senior at Manteca High, he’s still without a home. Plymate has bounced around since relocating to the Central Valley.

He lived with his stepsister’s ex-boyfriend for six weeks. His youth pastor Arlis Barba took him in for eight months before moving from Manteca to French Camp for family reasons. Recently, he stayed at an apartment of an usher from his church, Tabernacle of Praise.

“His daughter just moved back into town so I left the apartment – I just thought it wouldn’t be right of me to take her old room,” said Plymate, who, for now, is staying at the home of his stepsister.

Statistically, he was among the 1.2 million homeless students reported in U.S. public schools during a study for the 2011-12 academic year. Those numbers were up 10 percent from that of the previous year and 72 percent since the start of the recession, according to recent data from the National Center for Homeless Education as funded by U.S. Department of Education.

At Manteca Unified, Plymate is, at last count, part of the estimated 400 homeless students. He’s considered that since, under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act, he’s without a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence.

Yet he doesn’t pity himself. Instead, Plymate remains optimistic.

Despite some recent struggles – he admitted that his grades suffered after being consumed in an over 30-hours-a-week job as a stocker at a grocery store (he was fired from that job about a week ago) – Plymate values education and hopes to someday go into nursing.

“I adore Manteca High,” said Plymate, who is currently enrolled in Cheryl Behler’s Regional Occupation Program class, Health Careers.

He also enjoyed being part of the MHS ag program. For the past two years, he showed turkeys at the San Joaquin County Fair, earning a second-place ribbon this past summer.

Plymate has never shied away from hard work. “I’ve been working since I was 12,” he said, displaying calluses-filled hands as proof.

He’s done mechanical and electrical work not to mention some back-breaking labor.

“I’ve been called a ‘jack of all trades, a master of none’ – I’m still trying to learn another trade,” said Plymate, who’s able to work a series of odd jobs but is searching for steady part-time employment while in school.

Since he was without a legal guardian, he had a difficult time getting his driver’s license along with other services. Plymate turned 18 in September and was able to get a driving permit on his own. He was also given a 2000 GEO Metro, which is in need of some work in order to pass smog necessary for registration.

“Right now, I need a car that’s registered in order to take my driver’s test,” he said.

Plymate has a few friends – he prefers to keep that way – and some such as Barba, who is the youth pastor at the Tabernacle of Praise Church, as perhaps the most positive influence in his life.

“(Barba) offered me a place to stay in French Camp. But I can’t just yet until I have a car that I can legally drive so I can get back and forth to school,” he said.

Plymate wants to earn his diploma at MHS. His hope is to get into a nursing program, preferably Delta College, and settle into a long-lasting career. “Education is important, but I also think that experience can conquer knowledge,” he said.

Born in Oakland and raised in San Leandro, Plymate moved to Oregon with his family as a youngster. “My Dad got locked up in jail and is serving 13 years,” he revealed.

He clashed with his stepfather and his mother in which he admits now were some poor choices in his life, opting for a life as a runaway.

Plymate is now in good terms with his mother. “I talk to her weekly,” he said.

While most people his age may be at home going online or playing video games, Plymate has been forced to grow up.

He recently applied for Medi-Cal and is waiting to see if he qualifies for an EBT card formerly known as food stamps.

He uses the MUSD resources that are available to him such as MHS Clothes Closet and the free meal plan at school.

He also turns to the Bible for inspiration, most notably, Psalm 27:13 – “I would have lost heart, unless I had believed / I would see the goodness of the Lord / In the land of the living.”

So adept is he at scriptures that Plymate was called upon by his youth pastor to do Bible Quizzing through the United Pentecostal Church for the Western District tournament.

“Since I’m in the advanced level, I will have to know 500 verses in the next couple of months,” he said.

Not having a stable home life has been the least of his problems.

“First, I have to get through school. I need to graduate high school. But I also have to stay calm and collective,” said Plymate, who continues to maintain hope and optimism.

He added: “I really don’t have much to lose – everything I own right now is in my car.”

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