Photos provided by Shianne Bowlin
Shianne Bowlin is living her dream. The 27-year-old from Portland went from homeless to attorney in five short years all because she refused to let her family circumstances determine her future. Now, she spends her days working for Disability Rights Maine, helping others navigate a better life for themselves and the communities in which they call home.
“It was a long journey,” Shianne says. “I could’ve quit school and got a full-time job and probably got myself out of that [situation], but the only positive thing I had in my life was school. So, I just wanted to keep going.”
Shianne studied at the University of Southern Indiana where she attended classes and dutifully completed her assignments throughout the day. Not having enough money to live in the dorms or afford an apartment of her own, Shianne made the complicated decision to shelter in place. Finding well-lit areas where she could safely park and sleep in her car at night.
“When it was cold or there was a storm, friends would let me stay on their couch or cook me a hot meal,” she remembers.
Not once did Shianne allow homelessness to define her or become a distraction from the better life and brighter future she so eagerly desired. By the end of 2017, her efforts paid off when she successfully earned a degree in psychology. However, Shianne says she soon discovered there were limitations when it came to the fields of therapy and psychology. Craving to do more for those in society that were overlooked, forgotten, handed a raw deal or were a byproduct of bad choices, Shianne decided to turn her attention toward the law field.
“I learned the best way to give these people a voice was to go into law,” she says.
In 2018, the Indiana native moved to Maine and enrolled in the University of Maine School of Law. She also landed an externship [job shadowing] at Disability Rights Maine, a non-profit whose mission is to ensure autonomy, inclusion, equality, and access for people with disabilities in Maine.
“So, I worked and went to law school, yet I found myself at risk of being homeless again due to my roommate up and leaving,” Shianne recalls in disbelief. “It was a scary time in my life because I had worked so hard to have stability and it was going to be taken away again.”
Through hard work, Shianne avoided repeating history. She stayed focused, investing countless hours on the job and in her studies and in May of 2021 she earned her law degree. In July, she was hired as a full-time mental health attorney for Disability Rights Maine.
“I reached my goals. I actually made it,” Shianne says smiling ear to ear. “And I love being able to help people get the help I wished I had.”
From her Falmouth office, Shianne is able to connect people with services or agencies so they too can reach their own personal goals.
“A big part of my job is connecting people with community mental health resources,” she explains. “So, if someone is struggling with finding a case manager to help them find housing or needs help to go back to school, I can help with that. And that is something that is near and dear to my heart.”
Shianne hopes others won’t let their past or their circumstances ever become a barrier to all the opportunities that are available for those who believe in themselves.
“I hope other people who feel they’re at their lowest part, who feel they don’t have help will just keep pushing through and that they will see that they will overcome that hurdle as well,” Shianne says. “I didn’t go through this with the intention of giving people hope, but I hope it does.”