But You Have Your Law Degree

When I tell people I’m homeless and broke and on disability and they find out my background, they always tell me:

But you have your law degree.

It’s as if they think the 2 letters at the end of my title somehow give me immunity from poverty and illness. But intelligence has nothing to do with the mental and physical illnesses that plague me.

To be sure, my degree does help in that I understand how awful this all is – a reality most are lucky enough to be blissfully ignorant of. It has helped me find some resources perhaps a bit faster, but it doesn’t expedite the bureaucratic processes or tear through the red tape that barricades each avenue of possible relief.

If it were up to my intelligence, I would have figured it all out by now and made sure everyone on this planet has access to the answers too. But regardless of the textbooks I read or Google alerts I set to inform me of new research or Kaiser Family Foundation reports I peruse, none of them holds the key.

Someone once told me that helping me through this system is beyond their degree. But it’s not. It’s not beyond any degree because there is no degree for this. There is only grit, pain, and desperation. The people who get through are those with the most tenacity and great patience. They are the strongest people I’ve ever met or ever will meet.

As I wait my turn to be seen at the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, I talk with a vet about his tours in Qatar, Iraq, Somalia, Beirut, his fight against brain cancer, the loss of his wife to Leukemia. And just as people point out that I have a degree, they look at him and say – but you’re so strong.  Yet all strength couldn’t save him from homelessness, illness, and loneliness.

It’s not up to any one attribute. He is strong by necessity as are all the clients who surround me.

Strength trumps intelligence in these settings. But ultimately neither are what truly matters in the face of the harshness of this world.

Everytime I’ve been on a psych ward (6 so far since the age of 20), I see one truth – illness, particularly mental health illness does not discriminate and by proxy neither does the poverty it can lead to. In every ward you will find people representing every age, race and ethnicity, creed, education level. It is the most humbling gathering of individuals in one setting. All of us dealing with the unimaginable. And in those halls, nothing separates us, not a degree, not the amount of money or number of contacts we have, not our strength or

In the waiting rooms of any social service agency, you will find the same mix in many respects. There are fewer young, white women with J.D.’s but we are still here. And our degrees are pretty useless when the education needed is how to survive, how to find strength when there’s nothing left.


Update on 12/27/2015: Some individuals have generously offered to raise funds for housing for me at generosity.com.  While it is rather difficult to ask for assistance, if you are able to help in any way, I would greatly appreciate your kindness.


3 Responses to But You Have Your Law Degree

  1. dawn says:

    Thanks for sharing your story and best wishes! I know it’s a huge struggle.

  2. You are amazing, Erin. Your capacity for love and for seeing the plight of others despite your own struggles is something that is so *selfless* – Sending you massive amounts of love. xoxox

  3. […] so smart, you surely can work.” Or, as I’ve written about in the past, “But you have your law degree!” I’m tired of defending myself from these assertions – some perhaps well meaning […]

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