Poet Robert Frost defined "home" as where they have to take you in.
Maybe that's why we Baby Boomers never really feared becoming homeless. Families were intact. So there was always a part of the extended family who would take us in. No matter how bad the economy got or how we screwed-up it was rare that we wound up bunking on the sidewalk.
Today that kind of last-resort place to land when down and out keeps fading.
With good reason, Millennials envision themselves winding up homeless. Those include law students and lawyers.
But how realistic is that anxiety?
In Los Angeles County, there are 44,300 homeless human beings. The LA Homeless Services Authority surveyed 3,187 as to how they came to be without conventional lodging. Here is coverage of the results of those interviews in the LA Times.
About a fifth fingered unemployment or just plain-vanilla financial problems. Who doesn't have them in the 21st century?
There was plenty of mental illness and substance abuse. The good news there is that if they "get into the system" they will likely receive social services help in securing housing. Over and over again we hear at 12-step programs about members' winding up in detox, then being referred to rehab, gaining admission to a halfway house, and eventually putting together a new life with a permanent address and entitlements (such as disability) or a job.
Surprisingly, almost a third cited health problems. Those included diabetes, asthma, ulcers, amputations, and blindness. A chronic illness can prevent you from holding a job and bankrupt you with medical bills. It requires sophistication, including professional legal counsel, to be granted SSI.
There's another perspective, though. on the why of homelessness. It's in the autobiography of a homeless man, Stuart Shorter, by Alexander Masters. That's "Stuart: A Life Backwards." After a traumatic childhood, Shorter finds the ambiance of the street and the fellowship on park benches a better fit than regular lodging.
Social services puts him into a nice, safe bedsitter. He figures out how to exit. That's a preference he shares with some other homeless. Normal isn't for them. For that choice they trade off a long life. Most died in their 40s, as did Shorter. He may or may not have committed suicide.
So, what should lawyers and law students take as red flags that you could wind up homeless? Here are some of them:
- Loss of income
- Piling up of debt
- Lousy credit rating, with property managers unwilling to rent to you
- Being unemployable, whether that be from mental disease, physical disease, substance abuse, or lack of marketable skill
- Yearning for complete freedom, such as the mindset of Stuart Shorter.
If you are heading in the direction of homelessness, find a way to "get into the system." The drug addict son of a close friend robbed a donut shop and waited outside on the curb for the police, In prison he got clean and learned a trade. For years after that he has been operating a successful luxury furniture repair business, out of his home.