The Girl's Guide to Homelessness

Brianna Karp does not fit the "typical" picture of homelessness. True, her upbringing was a bit rough as the daughter of a sexually-abusive man and a psychologically tortured mother. Her childhood was far from ideal and had certain damaging effects on her sense of self and self-esteem. But she was an educated woman, someone with a job and an apartment and a whole life for herself. Not the kind of person anyone would associate with people begging for change on street corners and sleeping through winter on park benches.

And then the recession hit. And the company for which Brianna worked was forced to lay off more than half of their 500-plus employees. And she hit financial rock-bottom and had to move back to her abusive and destructive parental home. Which was when Karp realized that anything was better than going back to the distorted and debilitating place she had come from.

The Girl's Guide to Homelessness chronicles Brianna Karp's unique journey into and through homelessness. When her biological father passes away, she is lucky enough to inherit a trailer which she parks in a Walmart parking lot for months at a time for temporary shelter. Brianna still has a laptop from her more fortunate days, perfect for searching for jobs using Starbucks' internet connection. And this internet access also proves crucial in helping her find a wide and welcoming virtual world populated by the homeless.

Karp's story is about the reality of homelessness and the varied forms it may take. She repeatedly stresses that her homeless experience is a rather exceptional and particularly cushiony one. Nonetheless, her status as an officially homeless individual remains the same, and Karp has utilized her resources as a homeless woman to the best of her ability. For one, she started a blog about her experience, from which this book was actually born. And her access to basic technologies like a computer, a cell phone, and the internet allowed her to seek employment, to make connections with fellow homeless bloggers, and to meet a particularly important figure from the virtual homeless community who truly shapes her life in unimaginable ways. It allowed her to put a face to homelessness, to dispel the myths, and to become a true activist for the oft-silenced community.

This isn't necessarily a book of strategies for surviving homelessness, nor is it purely an account of how a homeless 20-something copes with day to day life without a permanent residence in modern America. I almost feel that the book's title is a bit misleading since The Girl's Guide to Homelessness is primarily a memoir of Brianna Karp's often unbelievable and endlessly inspiring life. Family drama, career aspirations, personal demons, and the trials and tribulations of love all play important roles in Brianna's story. Part of her point is that, remarkably enough, these seemingly "normal" concerns are still of great concern to the homeless. Brianna's story speaks to the variability of the experience of homelessness but also just how close and accessible it is to us all - she puts a human, relatable face on one of society's most misunderstood populations.

Karp closes out her story with grace, hope, and gratitude. Despite the struggles of being a homeless person, were it not for this experience, she would never have forged the support network that offers her a sense of home and belonging no matter where she physically or geographically finds herself. This book would never have been published and her life's work as an activist for the homeless would not have been discovered. Brianna raises lots of issues of particular importance to the homeless community, but The Girl's Guide also teaches a lot of useful lessons about life in general through Brianna's tremendous story. This memoir isn't a saddening tale of human suffering, but rather a hopeful and entertaining ode to the goodness inherent in all people and life's remarkable ability to surprise and delight us.


  1. I am going to check it out! :)

    Where I live has one of the highest homeless populations because we have so many programs to help the homeless. I did a program when I was in school that I was homeless for 2 weeks and we went and volunteered all over the city. I think one of the hardest things to decide is when someone really needs help because a lot of people choose homlessness.

  2. Another book added to my endless list.. I am sure this book will open up a lot of insight to every reader...

  3. btw, did u read the comment left on amazon about this book? the person who commented says that they know the author and feel that some of the events were fabricated... what do u think? is this another 'million little pieces'?

  4. Sounds great - i'm always looking for new books - thanks for the recco!

  5. Kalei's Best Friend - That's interesting about the Amazon comment! I'd like to imagine that it's an entirely true account and I know that Karp has a blog, so most of her experiences were probably recorded on there as they happened, though I guess that doesn't entirely settle the issue of fabrication. I think there is probably a misconception about homelessness and whether or not she fits the typical mold, but I feel like her story is probably primarily true because she doesn't try to make herself appear more desperate in order to gain sympathy or pity. I'd hope that, even if there is a bit of exaggeration in her story, it's nowhere near the level of A Million Little Pieces. Thanks for bringing this up though!

  6. @Laura: After I posted that comment I was thinking whether the person who posted it had an issue w/the author.. Jealousy? or just trying to start trouble... As far as fitting the typical mold, is there one? lol. If people think there is, then they are really close minded, don't u think?

  7. Kalei's Best Friend: I think it's pretty likely that the author of the comment had some other issue with the author. It's a shame that someone is out there trying to start trouble around something like this, but that seems likely!

    And as for the typical mold, I 100% agree that there isn't one, but there seems to be this idea among the general public that there is. I think people get so used to the image of a person along the side of the road begging for change and fail to think of those people as individuals with lives and experiences of their own. And that also blinds people to the fact that homelessness doesn't always look like the same. That's why I think this is such a great book because it dispels some myths by providing an in-depth look at a single certain experience of homelessness while constantly reminding readers that this is not the only way homelessness can look.

    And thanks for commenting! I love hearing your thoughts on this, especially since it seems that so many others are often apathetic about homelessness in comparison to some other social issues.

  8. Thanks for your comment.. As far as the apathy towards homeless folk- we could be in their shoes.. California has their share and its not just poor folk.. Corporate and professionals have been hit w/being homeless or coming close to it.. The latest job fairs showed ex corporate and professionals lining up for jobs that Dodger Stadium was offering- hot dog sellers, anything that is not on the corporate level...
    People should not be so quick to judge


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