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From Welfare To Work Giving Birth To Ambition Having A Child Forced Teen To Think About Future

The young runaway fell for a rebel with a mohawk. He was older and cool. He was the first guy to say, “I love you.”

They tattooed “Anarchy” on their forearms, camped in a nudist park, shared joints. They ran to The Hitching Post and got hitched.

Three months later, he confessed to a lie: He didn’t have a vasectomy. Then he split with the rent money.

The lie changed Julie Noble from Bohemian street kid to teenage mother.

A year ago, she bummed change for burgers. She now cooks beef stew in a clean, one-bedroom apartment with double-paned windows.

Noble’s social workers marvel at her transformation and devotion to 3-month-old Skylar. She kicked the drugs and dumped the rebel.

She’s back in school and loaded with plans: a high school diploma by spring, beauty school next fall, then her own store selling herbs and funky candles.

She’s helped by a half-dozen nurses and social workers and by an attentive mother, on call via pager.

“As long as Skylar feels loved, maybe he won’t be like I was,” said Noble, 17.

But the potential pitfalls for a single welfare mom with an eighth-grade education are as multiple as Noble’s body piercings (nose, lip, ears).

There’s her past. Her only friends in Spokane are part of the drug-filled street culture.

“I really worry,” said Rhonda Tuttle, Noble’s mom. “What happens when she gets tired of being grown up? Will she go back (to the streets) because that’s where she feels comfortable?”

There’s the rebel with a criminal past, her absent husband. She must stay married to keep her own apartment and stay on welfare. He recently asked her for bail money. She paid the rent instead.

There’s also welfare reform. Her $410 monthly check now comes with strings. When she gets her diploma and Skylar turns 1, she’ll be told to get a job. With no work history, she’d be slated for a minimum-wage job that’ll keep her in poverty.

If she’s lucky, she could get approval to attend beauty school.

“The whole philosophy now is assistance is a temporary gig,” said Lindy Haunschild, Noble’s social worker with the regional health district. “Maybe it’s going to help her, knowing it’s temporary and knowing she needs to keep moving forward.”

National studies say teen welfare mothers spend decades on public assistance, rarely escape poverty and often give birth to a generation of kids who themselves are likely to go on the dole.

Noble knows her options are limited, and for much of that she blames her husband’s deception. “I wish he’d given me a choice with my life,” she said.

Tuttle was also a teenage mother, and describes for her daughter the struggles of parenting alone.

“She’s either going to slip, go to adoption or she’s going to be one of the strongest, best mothers in the world,” said Tuttle, a martial arts instructor. “It’s the long haul that will tell.”

Noble arrived in Spokane in August 1995, after living with her grandmother in Southern California. She arrived a streetwise kid who got six cartons of cigarettes from friends on her 15th birthday.

Tuttle put Noble in drug treatment the following winter, after her daughter took a bad acid trip. Noble returned home, relapsed and fled. She said she left because “I didn’t like feeling like I was the worst person in the world.”

Her first stop was the Merlin Hotel, where she slept in a prostitute’s closet. She lost 30 pounds living on handouts and anesthetizing herself with pot.

She fell in with a transient camp at People’s Park, where people went nude by day, partied at night. One night, a friend was stabbed. Noble stained her clothes crimson carrying him to an ambulance.

“You never think about the things that happen” on the streets, she said. “You think about what happens next. You think about your next meal, where you’re going to get a pack of cigarettes, what camp you are going to sleep in that night.”

She met her husband in the park. They were engaged within two months, married in four. Tuttle reluctantly gave permission for her underage daughter to marry the 20-year-old man, fearing Noble would continue streetlife if denied.

A few days after the pregnancy test came back positive, he disappeared.

Julie responded with action: she got on welfare, quit drugs, found a low-rent apartment, dropped out of the street scene. Teetering between a chaotic adolescence and adulthood, she calls it her “reality check.” Now she budgets to the penny. Last month, she had $16 after paying bills.

Her days are quiet now, spent caring for Skylar, studying with her state-paid tutor, cooking and playing with her fat calico cat, Smokey.

“I don’t care what happens - I work two jobs, I’ll save, I’ll not eat,” said Noble. “I’m going to school, whatever it takes. We’re not going to stay like this.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 3 Photos (2 color)