Between the Covers

The Girl's Guide To Homelessness

Brianna Karp

I was all fired up reading this book; it made me look at my own prejudices, not only against homeless people but all the other prejudices I carry unconsciously. Here in Australia the GFC has barely touched us, but in America millions are now out of work and, for many like Karp, therefore out of homes for the first time. "People think the homeless are lazy, as if they'd choose this exhausting lifestyle."

Despite her fanatical Jehovah's Witness family with extremely violent and abusive parents, she manages to create a good life for herself with a house and dream job by the age of 20, until made redundant. After working and driving a car since she was 12 years old, pulling herself out of her turgid background by the bootstraps, she couldn't find another job and lost her house. Although terrified and living alone with her dog in a trailer parked in a Walmart parking lot surrounded by other debris of society, she adapts to her new circumstances, accessing the internet in cafes and blogging. In a very short time she becomes an activist and well-known spokesperson for the homeless community, with a dramatic love story along the way. She wants people to look at the homeless and see someone's child, someone's mother or father, sister or brother; in short, a real person who through poor choices or plain misfortune, has ended up with nowhere to live. I particularly liked the way she addressed the scorn and abuse directed at a homeless person with a mobile phone or laptop. As she says, the thinking seems to go that "if I can afford a $40 phone then I can afford a $40 house." Without a phone she has no safety, and no potential employer can reach her, and without a computer it's very difficult to look for work.

While I was aghast at her history, and hated the flippant title for a serious book, I was impressed by her courage in revealing her Jehovah's Witness background. There's black humour here: "Her dead father's teeth (were) crowded and fleeing in all different directions, like scared goldfish…" Her initiative and tenacity are equally impressive, especially remembering how young she was when writing this, only 22.

By sharing her story, she's exposed the shame and stigma attached to a homeless person. I can only hope the future is brighter for her and others like her.

Books reviewed are available at the Book Warehouse in Keen Street, Lismore, and at Lismore Shopping Square.

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