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Woman documents homelessness in memoir

Brianna Karp has had an unfortunate life — sexual abuse, date rape, an unhappy Internet love affair and homelessness.
/ Source: Reuters

Brianna Karp has had an unfortunate life — sexual abuse, date rape, an unhappy Internet love affair and homelessness.

But the 26-year-old from southern California, has still managed to find the joy in living and tells her story in "The Girl's Guide to Homelessness: A Memoir," which is published this month.

It's an ongoing story, reality television in print. After the broad brush memories in the initial pages the book moves to the central theme — homelessness and urban survival.

All along the way it's harrowing, even when the reader can suspect what comes next and the end result is a book deal. Karp now lives in a converted shed on a dirt lot. Whatever success she has achieved she attributes not to being brilliant or smart but perhaps to be more determined.

"I have my sad times when I just want to cry and say I can't do it anymore. Then I cry, get up and get moving. What's your other option?" she said.

Karp's tribulations began early with a broken home but life started to look up when she was able to make her own decisions. Raised as a Jehovah's Witness she rejected the church, moved away from her family and took care of herself until she lost her job.

After an unsuccessful job hunt she inherited her father's 30-foot trailer after his suicide and learned she could camp out in the parking lots of certain Wal-Mart stores if she remained discreet.

The arrangement made her less than technically homeless, an advantage Karp acknowledges but emphasizes there are various degrees of homelessness.

Karp seems highly organized and decisive. It's hard to fathom how she can suffer one calamity after another and ultimately find herself camped out in a car park. But as the book shows, dramatic life changes are uncontrollable and can happen to anyone.

"Homeless people are real people with real stories," Karp said.

Karp admits she still needs therapy, though she is currently not talking to anyone.

"I probably should be but my therapist moved on and I need a new one," she admitted. "It is on my 'to do' list, definitely."

She's currently working as a marketing assistant for a non-profit theater company in Costa Mesa, California and commutes 40 miles each way, every day. She is trying to scrape together enough to secure a permanent home for herself and her dog, who is one of her few joys in life.

But "things can derail you when you are homeless and struggling — like a flat battery," she said.

Her British fiancee, whom she met on the Internet and supported while he visited the U.S., even though she was homeless, eventually went back to the mother of his child. Karp was left on the street in Britain at Christmas to be picked up by the police in the cold.

Through it all though, Karp remain optimistic.

"I don't believe in 'I'm a victim,'" she said. "I went to pains to be as honest and as brutal about myself as I could. There was a temptation to gloss things over."