From the street to the courtroom: Thanksgiving has a whole new meaning for a lawyer


Shianne Bowlin, who has spent years living in her car, breaks the stigma of homelessness.

PORTLAND, Maine – Thanksgiving isn’t just a day we spend with family and friends, it’s also a time to take a break and appreciate the things we often take for granted.

For a Portland lawyer, who spent years living in her car while homeless, gratitude can’t even begin to describe how she feels that day.

Shianne Bowlin moved into her first job as a lawyer with Rights of Persons with Disabilities Maine. The agency offers protection and legal defense to people with intellectual disabilities or mental illness. And she still pinches herself.

“I really never thought I could get here, it’s amazing,” Bowlin said.

Bowlin was just a high school student in her home state of Indiana when she said domestic issues forced her to leave her home. Her father, who was her legal guardian, threatened to report her to the police as a runaway if she told anyone what had happened.

“When I finally had the money to buy a car, it was cheaper to live in a car than in an apartment,” said Shianne.

With no shelters for homeless adolescents and no services available, this car became his refuge. Relying on friends for hot meals and the occasional showers, Shianne graduated from high school, while still living in her car.

Thanks to student loans, Shianne enrolled in psychology at the University of Southern Indiana, but could not afford to live in the dormitory.

“I could spend most of the day in the library, but at night I parked in hotels, gas stations and slept in my car,” Bowlin said.

Despite being homeless, Shianne earned three bachelor’s degrees and a master’s degree. While working with inpatients in a psychiatric unit at a mental health facility, her professional focus changed.

“I want to go into law to protect these people that others just want to throw out. I connected on a personal level because a lot of people wanted to throw me out,” Bowlin said.

After being accepted into the University of Maine Law School, Shianne was finally able to move into an apartment. She also drew on resources such as emergency funds provided by the school and the services of the Preble Street Resource Center.

Due to the stigma, Shianne rarely shared that she had spent years living on the streets. Last summer, however, she celebrated her status as a certified lawyer on social media, in a post that has since received over 600 hundred likes.

“The stigma is really hard because it’s so pressing, but it’s so important to put it aside, to speak up for yourself, let it know, what you want and what you need,” Bowlin explained.

Now, as a mental health lawyer, her experiences help guide her clients to provide them with the resources and advocacy they need, while proving that obstacles and stigma can be overcome to achieve your dreams. .

For information on housing and shelter in your community from the Maine Department of Health and Human Resources, go here.

For information on Homeless Resources and Housing from the Maine State Housing Authority.


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