By Sarah Murphy
Brianna Karp became homeless in 2009 after losing her job to the recession and later being kicked out of her childhood home. At a friend's suggestion, she began a blog, "The Girl's Guide to Homelessness," which has since been turned into a book. Over the past two years, she has been chronicling her life as a young homeless woman, sharing her extraordinary resourcefulness. While now she technically has a roof over her head, her time continues to be filled with uncertainties and hardships. She uses whatever means she has at her disposal to make it more bearable.
I recently spoke with Brianna about her life, being homeless, and the book. Her past has been nothing but difficult. She had a strict religious upbringing, as well as suffered physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. She began working at the age of 10 and was largely the primary earner in her family from then on. She credits the work ethic she developed over time, "as well as sheer stubbornness," for her ability to move beyond the many barriers she has encountered - and continues to encounter - in her life.
When she first learned she would be homeless, she felt frightened and isolated. It didn't make sense to her. "Growing up, I learned all of these stereotypes about homeless people, and that wasn't me." As it slowly sunk in, she collected herself, began looking at her resources, and developed a plan. She had a computer on which she could continue to look for jobs, a phone to field interviews, and a trailer that would provide her with basic shelter (though finding water and electricity would pose another challenge).
Brianna read that she could keep the trailer parked at a Walmart, and so began her life as a homeless girl. She discovered through her journey that she was not alone. "I was surprised at the all the different types of people I became friends with: elderly couples, a former doctor, a teacher, gay teenagers. Some had mental problems or were into drugs. But most were like me. They couldn't get a decent paying job." They all supported each other. She also found comfort and information in the
vast online resources and forums for homeless people.
Her blog began to pick up followers, and later a piece she wrote was accepted in Elle Magazine. Elle gave her an internship, which came with a lot of press, and immediately, she was thrust into the spotlight. She said it was "surreal" and spoke about being "overwhelmed and in shock throughout the
whole process." She was on the Today Show and being flown around the country, but when the media dried up, "I was still homeless."
Brianna never stopped writing and started to get calls asking her to write a book. At first she was resistant. Up until the Elle media blitz, she was anonymous. She wasn't ready to expose the issues with her family, but she came to peace with this and realized that her book may be able to help someone in her situation, someone also feeling alone. As she said, "If this can be something people can connect to, then it will be a success."
Brianna is now on the road, doing speaking engagements, promoting the book, and talking once again to the press, but her struggle is not over. She has a job and has moved into a converted shed, which she considers a "step up from the trailer." However, she explained that for all intents and purposes, she lives in a camp. "At any time, we may have to pick up all of our things and vacate the premises, but then after some time passes, we all move back." Further, because she works in Orange County California where there is a dearth of affordable housing, she has to drive 80 minutes per day to get back and forth from her job. But through all of this, her attitude continues to be inspiring. "I don't expect anything to come for free. I know that I need to work hard." So that is just what she does.
Brianna continues to document the two lives she is leading: One as a published author, and the other as a girl still trying to get ahead.
Learn more about Brianna and The Girl's Guide to Homelessness at http://girlsguidetohomelessness.com/.
Published in Safety Net, Spring/Summer 2011