The Girl’s Guide to Homelessness by Briana Karp
This is a memoir of the young author’s life thus far. Hers is a story of abuse, abandonment, rejection, and loneliness, yet despair only rarely fits. She is courageous in the face of pending homelessness and even reaches out to others during this difficult time. Ms. Karp quickly becomes an advocate for homelessness and meets many other people doing the same. One of them is Matt Barnes, a one-time homelessness advocate who also blogged. His site is now gone. Theirs was a whirlwind romance that collided one Christmas day.
Ms. Karp’s story is more than a failed romance. She starts her story at the beginning of her memories and takes the reader on a sordid tale of emotional and physical abuse. Raised a Jehovah Witness in a home with a mentally ill, abusive mother, Briana should have become a statistic. The abuse was random and full of rage. Her mother’s religious values were warped and she often dogmatically “ruled” the house. Briana’s younger sister was spared the mother’s wrath. Briana took her sister’s punishments as well as her own. This caused great damage and the two sisters still lack any real relationship.
Briana loses her job, money runs out and like so many others in 2008, lost her home. She initially returned to her mother’s home and everyone resumes their previous family roles. One day her mother, full of spiteful rage, accused Briana of all sorts of lies and then throws her out of the house. Briana’s savior of sorts was her absentee father. Years earlier he had killed himself, leaving Briana his worldly possessions, including a camper RV with a truck to tow it. Her home was now located in the far parking lot at a Wal-Mart store, until she moved it to a friend’s ranch. The book goes into great detail of that life, and Briana’s thoughts, has she tried to live the life of a homeless person, blogging it into cyberspace along the way.
I found the book interesting, compelling, and heart-breaking. It was also an emotional rollercoaster. Parts of the story angered me, thinking at times that Briana’s story had to be at least partially contrived. She works at Disneyland and drives herself there – at age 12. More outrageous – her mother insisted her daughter work (though mom did not), and taught her to drive because mom was tired of driving her daughter to school and work. Briana took care of schools of Koi at the Disneyland Hotels and performed shows when people gathered around the fish. At age 12, she did this, and not one single soul noticed something was a bit off?
Well, there is a lot of things to talk about with this book but the main subject and the one that Briana Karp wants everyone to talk about, is homelessness. When Briana was homeless she lived in her father’s RV (small, cramped, pulled with a truck), until Wal-Mart towed it out of their parking lot (along with several others). Then she lived in a friend’s trailer on the friend’s farm in California. While living there she took a trip to Scotland and became stranded and homeless there, nearly dying in the freezing weather. When found outdoors, the police took her to the hotel she no longer had money for and the owners allowed her to stay “indefinitely.” Months later she returned home and set up house in another trailer on her friend’s property.
Briana’s homeless adventures really beg the question, was she ever really homeless? She had a roof over her head every night and a bed to sleep in. The RV stayed in one spot until impounded and then she moved to another trailer and another roof and bed. Purchasing food was not a problem either. She had money most of the time. Briana collected unemployment or worked part-time to make ends meet and save. Much of that savings was used to bring her new Internet friend from Scotland to her RV home in California, round-trip. When he did not return to America, Briana hopped on a plane, last minute, at Christmas to surprise him.
It is difficult to call her homeless. Homelessness has been burned into our collective minds to be the bag lady pushing a shopping cart filled with her worldly possessions or a bum lying under a stairwell asleep. Homeless are the people sleeping in mission houses at night, often crowded and often mentally ill. A young woman, living in her inherited truck and trailer, spending extravagant sums on international plane tickets and European trips, does not invoke an image of homelessness. She begs to differ – LOUDLY.
I was very torn about this book. If it is true, Briana’s story is compelling and needs to be told. If it is even partly fabricated, I didn’t want any part; reading or reviewing. Conflicted, I checked every cited website and Googled many names. Much of what is in the book is also documented on the Internet, sometimes in several versions and authors. Still, the Internet can be dangerously deceptive as well as a treasure trove of interesting facts. Most troubling was not being able to find the two most important websites in this story. Boyfriend Matt’s is now a parked page for mortgage loans while Briana’s was turned into a sales page for her book. Wouldn’t the publisher have researchers and lawyers fact-checking their fingers to the bone? Would the publisher knowingly print Briana’s story if they couldn’t verify everything?
Having been a social worker and knowing much about abuse and homelessness thanks to the profession, I thought Briana led a fantastical life, survived barriers small and large and nearly every form of harm one can imagine. She was forced to work at age 12 and drive. She was mentally and physically abused and though it is only a small mention, Briana states she was sexually abused at least once during those missing years of age 18 to 22. Briana has suffered sudden job loss, the end of unemployment without a new job, nearly dying in freezing weather and homelessness. This is way too much for one person to handle, especially at such a young age, yet handle it she did. After speaking with Briana a couple of times, through email, I believe she wrote the story of her life as she saw it, told a good, compelling story, and has weathered her trials admirably without any major psychological scars. I find that to be a miracle. Whether she experienced homelessness or just a really bad “apartment” (she was paying rent for the RV on the friend’s farm), I suspect will be debated for some time. Regardless, Briana Karp is a strong advocate for the homeless. A position too few undertake.
**Since writing this review I have found that Matt Barnes’ website Homeless Tales has been shut down by the server. If it was at Matt’s request or for something mundane such as not paying hosting fees, I do not know. Briana Karp’s website, the book’s namesake, is not a sales page as I stated in the review. The day I visited the site was down for a make-over. It is back up in its entirety and with all posts, looking shiny and new with wonderful colors. My apologies Ms. Karp