At 19, Malaya McGant decided to leave her mother’s Clark County home for good.
McGant had tried to connect with his Muscogee (Creek) Nation, Somali and Egyptian heritage, but this cultural exploration was not accepted by his mother, who tended to be strict and overprotective, according to McGant.
“I would do things like practice spirituality or meditate or light sage in my bedroom,” said McGant, now 21. “And that was a problem, and that was a disagreement, and she didn’t want witchcraft in her house. That was something else in her perspective.
After a few years of couch surfing and sporadically living with her mother, McGant has reached a breaking point. “I was like, ‘I can’t be here because I don’t feel safe here,'” she said. “I would literally rather sleep on the streets than be in a place where I can’t be myself freely.”
She cut off all contact with her mother and set up a tent by the Columbia River, where she lived from the summer of 2019 until November while working two jobs, she said. During her time camping, she met other young people struggling with identity issues and lack of acceptance from their families.
“It all goes back to mental health awareness,” she said. “I feel like a lot of us are really trying to get back in tune with that these days — finding our inner selves and getting back to our roots, and just finding healthy ways to express ourselves.”
life on the street
McGant appreciated having her own space by the river, but she didn’t always feel safe. “There were several times when I woke up and someone was trying to get into my tent. I had to punch a few men in the face,” she said. “It’s crazy, because that I had never been in physical combat in my entire life.”
Other homeless youth referred her to The Perch, a drop-in center run by Janus Youth Programs. There, a case manager helped her get a subsidized apartment, a process McGant described as “simple and easy”. But once she moved into her new apartment, she encountered several problems.
“I didn’t understand signing a lease, paying my bills and saving my money,” she said. “I was just like, ‘Oh, I got a spot now,’ like inviting all my friends who needed help, like they could crash on the couch. And all of a sudden, at me, there were cockroaches.
She also noticed that many people were struggling with drug addiction, she added. “I ended up backing off and falling back into addictions, problems, bad relationships, abuse and a lot of things.”
While McGant said her substance use was mostly limited to alcohol and marijuana, she saw friends succumb to harder drugs like fentanyl, methamphetamine and heroin. “I’ve literally seen some of my friends go from just being a drinker or a stoner to completely giving up on themselves,” she said. “And it usually goes back to – again – mental health.”
Unhappy in her apartment, she decided to move to Los Angeles with a guy she was dating at the time. He was violent towards her and was eventually arrested in California, according to McGant.
“It was awful,” she said. “It made me realize that the path I was on was not right. I was like, ‘I have to go home.’
She stayed in Portland with her grandmother, who supported McGant emotionally and connected her with resources. “I stopped hanging out with the friends who chose to do bad things,” McGant said. “I managed to get back on my feet”
She found another apartment in Vancouver through Janus Youth, this time choosing it more intentionally. “I love where I’ve chosen,” she said, noting that the resort feels diverse and community-focused. She is still close to her grandmother and has reestablished some contact with her mother.
McGant is now using his experience to help bring about positive change in Clark County. “It’s not just about me,” she said. “It’s literally about the next person who might face this, or the next girl who might be experiencing domestic violence and asking for help and feeling like she has no compassion or no one. does not relate to it.”
In addition to her advocacy, McGant launched her own company as a certified life coachteaching clients about nutrition and guiding them through holistic healing techniques like meditation.
“I feel like I’m really in tune with myself. My grandmother is proud of me and I see a little more success in my business,” she said. “And I like to tell other people they can do it too.”