The Walmart lot was cold in the night air, even for southern California. I hadn’t brought enough blankets and would need to swing by the thrift store and pick up a few more. Everything was well-lit by the streetlamps and eerily quiet. There were maybe a dozen other trailers around when I arrived, but no sign that actual people might live in them at all. I had once visited Calico Ghost Town, an old abandoned mining settlement in the hills outside San Bernardino, and this had that same sense of deathly desertion. I knew they were there, perhaps even peeking out their windows at the newcomer, but I couldn’t see or hear any of them.

Were any of the others like me? Were the rest of them just passing through? Was I the only one idiotic enough to think I could pull off a stunt like this?

Irrational fear swept through me. How could I sleep? I was more weary than I’d been in a long time, but I flicked on a solitary flashlight and tried to read a book, although you couldn’t exactly call it reading. It was more like staring blankly at the page, eyes racing over the words without comprehension as my mind created scenarios one after the other, each more horrible than the last. What if I awoke to the brisk tapping of police batons on my windows?

What if they knew I was planning on staying here longer than a night or two? What if they could sense it? What if I awoke at a tilt, all my boxes hurtling from one end of the trailer toward my head, as a tow truck dragged me away, screeching for help, muffled and buried under hundreds of books?

I had never much thought about homelessness or homeless people. Sure, there was the occasional “hobo” on the street, perhaps lounging on the sidewalk outside a 7-Eleven, begging for change, ragged, perhaps with a worn ski cap on, maybe missing a few teeth, with scraggly hair and a wizened visage.

“Don’t make eye contact with them,” my mother would say, jerking me to her side, not even bothering to whisper or even lower her voice. She spoke about them as if they couldn’t hear or understand her, or as if they had no feelings to hurt. I never really thought to question that. It was just another stereotype repeated to me, ad nauseam, from infancy.

“They’re just lazy bums. Too lazy to get a job. Don’t look at them, don’t talk to them and don’t give them anything. Half of them aren’t even really homeless, you know. They’re just faking it to make money without actually having to do anything.”

I had never thought about how those homeless people ended up there. I had never once thought to ask, “Why would a lazy person choose that life?” It seems like a really hard, scary, uncertain life. It seems like the last kind of life a lazy jackass would choose.

I was ashamed of myself, thinking back on it. In a way, this was my atonement, my penance for being so self-righteous all those years. Serves me right, I realized wildly.

It was Thursday, February 26, 2009. I was homeless. But then, it’s not really enough to tell you that I’m homeless, is it? You want to know who the hell I am and how I got here.

I was ashamed of myself, thinking back on it. In a way, thiswas my atonement, my penance for being so self-righteous all those years. Serves me right, I realized wildly.

It was Thursday, February 26, 2009. I was homeless.

But then, it’s not really enough to tell you that I’m homeless, is it? You want to know who the hell I am and how I got here.

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BRIANNA KARP was born on March 6, 1985 and was raised in Orange County, CA. To outsiders Brianna’s life appeared normal, but at home it was anything but. Brianna endured constant mistreatment from her parents: molested by her father at the age of two and abused by her mother until a late teen. She got her first job at age ten, a legal work permit at age twelve, and supported her mother and younger sister by working multiple jobs from age twelve to eighteen, when she left home. A few years later, her life seemed to be turning around when she landed an Executive Assistant position earning $50,000 a year, but everything changed drastically in 2008 when she was laid off due to recessionary cutbacks. With no safety net and unable to live with family and friends, Brianna eventually began living in a trailer at a Walmart parking lot. While searching for permanent employment, Brianna decided to write about her homeless experiences and started the blog TheGirlsGuidetoHomelessness. As the popularity of her blog increased, her life took a downward spiral, and Brianna was soon faced with insurmountable challenges. Now at twenty-six she continues to seek permanent employment and shelter as the recession lingers. She is the co-founder of World Homeless Day, a spokesperson for the homeless, and a passionate advocate for the issues of homelessness.

3 responses to “Excerpt from The Girl’s Guide to Homelessness

  1. milo martin says:

    Brianna
    angels get the toughest tests…
    truly,
    Milo

  2. Articulate, thoughtful, and brave, just a great piece, girl.

  3. Mary Richert says:

    Yeah, I do want to know how you got there!

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