Wednesday, September 24, 2014

I'm a Legal Aid Attorney and "Homeless" - The Week Before

OK, this is going to be out of place with the rest of the content on this blog, but it is about something deeply personal to me. 

I am a 32-year-old employed legal aid attorney. I regularly represent the poor in all manner of civil legal issues. I have a beautiful wife who is an employed physician's assistant (her age doesn't matter, but I assure you she looks just as good today as she did when I married her more than 7 years ago). We have a 3-year-old boy and an 8-month-old boy. We have two cats. I'll be honest, I don't like the cats, but my wife and boys love them. Also, we have all the material possessions that come along with a family. 

If you had told me at the beginning of the year that I would have to move back in to my parent's house, I'd have told you that you were crazy. Yet, tomorrow night is the last night we will be sleeping in our own home before moving in with my folks. Yes, after more than 6 years of representing the poor, including numerous homeless clients, I'm about to experience homelessness myself. Sort of at least.

So here's the story. We decided to sell and move to my hometown. Great. We carefully staged our house and started looking for a new one. We figure we had some time from when we put our house on the market before we would have an acceptable offer. It took all of around eight hours before we got essentially a full price offer. And we only had until near the end of September to be out. We were ecstatic. We figured it would take months to sale and we would never get what we were asking.

We quickly opted for a nearly finished home under construction. Long story short, due to unforeseen issues with the builders, it won't be done until late October. There would be a month gap of no house for us. And so, we are only a few days from being "homeless" and living with my folks for a month.

Now, let me be clear: I'm not going to deal with many of the harsh realities my clients regularly have to face. I'm not going to a homeless shelter. My family and I aren't going to be separated. I'm not going to the department of job and family services. I know exactly when my period of homelessness will end. We will still have two incomes. I'm not going to be on-the-street-homeless.

Yet, as the time for me to move back in with my parents come closer, I'm realizing more clearly than ever before just how hard it is to be even my kind of homeless. And my kind of homeless, where you move in with family members because you've lost your home, is something a lot of my clients experience. Fortunately, I know my stay is temporary.

First, I'm moving back in with my parents at my age. I joke about it, my coworkers joke about it, my friends joke about it, but the truth is, I'm actually incredibly embarrassed about it. At my age, I just can't believe this is happening. Yes, a lot of people would love to have the problem we have where we sold our house too quickly. Yet, my upbringing and society has ingrained in me that when you leave your parent's home, if you have to go back, it's because you have failed in some serious, socially bad way. 

As a legal aid attorney, I know that isn't true. I regularly console clients that sometimes "life happens" and we all go through tough times. And yet, that's still how I feel about myself. Like a failure.

Additionally, we are imposing on my parents. A lot. They're saints. They offered to house us as soon as we found out that our home was delayed. I love them dearly. But this can't be easy for them. They've been empty-nesters for a few years now, and they're about to not only get me back, but my wife and kids as well. In the same 3 bedroom house I grew up in. And they're moving a lot of stuff around to accommodate us. 

That is a big favor. I feel incredibly loved and fortunate that they're there. But, I also feel incredibly guilty to impose upon them like this. I can't imagine what it must be like for my clients that have to do this, not knowing when they will be moving back out. And for those who lack the close family that I am blessed with, it would be awful.

Then there is our cats. They can't come to my parents. They can't go to the in-laws. None of our friends could house them. If we weren't so fortunate to have decent jobs and in-laws that want to help us board them in an upscale kitty prison, we'd have to give them up, possibly to a shelter where they might be put down. This would absolutely destroy my wife if we had to do that. She is holding our family together through all of this, but if she lost her cats over this, she would lose it herself. For most of my clients, they wouldn't be so lucky because they wouldn't be able to afford to spend money in this manner.

Then, there is our stuff. I've been preaching for a while now at home that there's too much of it. I've gotten rid of a lot, but we still have a lot. Honestly, we don't need a lot of it. Fortunately, we can afford to store it in a POD for a few weeks until the new house is ready. I've talked to numerous clients who wouldn't have been able to afford this option. Instead, they basically lose all of their worldly possessions. The thought of that happening now would be too much to deal with. The thought of having to start all over would make this unbearable. How my clients keep putting one foot in front of the other is beyond me as I contemplate what we would do if we didn't have the resources to store our stuff.

If I am feeling so many deep and powerful emotions, and such feelings of guilt and embarrassment and failure, I can only imagine what my clients must feel. Already, I find myself much more understanding when my clients tell me there stories.

There is so much more I want to write about, but I will spread it out over the next couple of weeks with regular updates. I expect I will learn a lot out of this. It is already giving me a new appreciation for what my clients go through. And it makes me all the more thankful that I do have a loving family and a good job and that this is a short period of homelessness.

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