13 Year Old Morehouse Student
As a 13-year-old, Lithonia resident Stephen Stafford II can usually be found sitting in front of the television playing video games or playing his drum set. But Stafford is no typical 13-year old – he’s a college student. The triple-major child prodigy is becoming a sensation at Morehouse College .
Brianna Karp tells the story of how she got
off the streets in "The Girl's Guide to
County, Calif., executive assistant was employed, making
$50,000 a year, and living in a cozy cottage with her mastiff,
But she would soon face a downward spiral.
"I was laid off in July 2008, along with over half of my
company," Karp tells ParentDish. "For the next six months, I
struggled to stay afloat on unemployment, which didn't cover
rent and food. I searched for work every day; I signed up with
several temp agencies and took as many opportunities as I could.
This was at the peak of the recession, and nobody was hiring."
No longer able to pay her rent, Karp says she attempted a
short-term stay with her mother and stepfather, "which really
was a last resort, as there's a very toxic history there."
She soon found herself without a home.
ParentDish recently caught up with Karp, now 26, about the
book, advice she can offer young people facing homelessness
and how she was able to not only land on both feet, but land a
book deal, as well. An edited version of the interview follows.
ParentDish: Where did you end up staying, after leaving
your mother's house?
Brianna Karp: I ended up living in my deceased biological
father's camper in the middle of a Walmart parking lot -- taking
advantage of their policy allowing travelers and campers to stay
overnight on their lots for free. It wasn't fun, but you do what
you have to in order to sort of eke out an existence and try to
find a sustainable routine.
PD: You had no electricity or running water.
BK: I showered at a nearby mom-and-pop gym where I
purchased a membership for $9.99 a month. If I needed to use a
restroom in the middle of the night, there was a 24-hour gas
station on the same block. I'd learned from a book I'd read years
before that you can boil water on a car radiator to cook food. I
purchased a large high-powered flashlight that I shone at the
ceiling of the trailer at night, and it would give me enough light
to read by.
campers and cars: a married couple in their 60s, a former doctor,
a man who spoke four languages. I was by far the youngest.
Many of them had lost their jobs and homes in the recession, as
PD: What was a typical day like?
BK: During the day I'd usually sit in Starbucks with my laptop
and send out résumé after résumé. I also started an anonymous
blog, which was how I began meeting other homeless and
formerly homeless people and activists. It had never occurred to
me that there would be such a vast, global online network of
PD: The idea of a homeless girl with a laptop and cell phone
is a new one. How is job hunting different when you're
BK: Everyday life has become so technology-driven that things
like a cell phone and Internet access are essential. Yet, people
are still amazed to see homeless people utilizing resources, or
conclude that they must not "really" be homeless. Why should a
person entering a crisis like homelessness be expected to give up
items they may already own, like a cell phone or laptop, which
may be their most valuable tools for finding work and digging
their way out? Without a laptop or cell phone, I would be
without means of accessing job boards in the most efficient
manner possible, of sending out résumés and being contacted by
Another thing that many are unaware of is that there are
government programs providing homeless people with voice
mail boxes, cell phones and even used laptops. Often, homeless
individuals use public libraries to access the Internet. These
tools are invaluable and critical in today's society, and they also
allow homeless people a means by which to share their
experiences, stories and offer one another moral support or
solutions even from long distances apart.
PD: What did you learn about other homeless people from
BK: It was a topic I'd never really thought about until it
happened to me, as I suspect is usually the case for most people.
It did force me to take a look at the personalities and stories
behind the labels and stereotypes. What I found is that these are
really just people, and that there is no basis for the automatic
presuppositions that I hear over and over: "Homeless people are
all druggies/mentally ill/dirty/lazy/unloved."
I found a warm, supportive network of people that did their best
to help one another out, even if all they had to offer was
encouragement despite their personal circumstances. In my
experience, I've found that there's as many reasons and causes
behind homelessness as there are homeless people. No one
should be pigeonholed. I believe all homeless people need help.
Shelter is a basic human need and right, as far as I'm concerned.
PD: Talk about how your religious upbringing and your
mother have affected your life.
BK: I was raised a Jehovah's Witness. I knew early on that I
didn't believe what the other Jehovah's Witnesses did, and I also
knew that would affect the relationship with my mother. ... My
mother has a reputation as a very difficult person and was highly
physically and verbally abusive, emotionally manipulative ...
which I talk more about in the book. Together, they really made
it a very claustrophobic environment to grow up in. It's taken
some time, out on my own, to figure out how the outside world
and normal human interaction works and it's an ongoing
PD: Through your blog you connected with Elle magazine
columnist E Jean Carroll.
BK: I had been reading her column for about nine years, and, on
a complete whim, I wrote her a letter explaining my situation
and asking for advice. I never expected to hear back and
promptly forgot all about it. Several months later, my letter was
not only published in her advice column in Elle magazine, but
she offered me a three-month, telecommuting internship.
The story ballooned in the media and was picked up all over the
world. Suddenly, I found myself in newspapers and on CNN and
the "Today Show." It was all very overwhelming, but definitely
exciting and quite a thrill. E. Jean is absolutely one of the
warmest, most generous human beings I have ever met, and I'm
so grateful for the opportunity she gave me and the doors that it
ended up opening.
PD: Do you have full-time work now?
BK: A few months ago, I received a call for an interview at
South Coast Repertory, a local theatre in Orange County,
looking for a marketing assistant. I had applied there, along with
hundreds of other assistant jobs in Orange, Riverside and L.A.
counties. The interview went great and I landed the job!
I love the company, the people and the culture at the theater. I
commute 80 miles round-trip per day, which is about three hours
total in traffic. I'm picking up a lot of valuable new skills to add
to my repertoire. As it's nonprofit work and wages are not what
they used to be, I live paycheck-to-paycheck, like most people
PD: And benefits?
BK: It's the first time since becoming homeless that I've had
health and dental benefits. It's taken two years of job searching
to reach this point. I tried to keep my residence status and the
media attention on the DL at work, but Google never forgets, so
pretty soon everybody at work knew about it. My co-workers
and bosses have actually been so nonjudgmental and supportive.
I feel so incredibly lucky and privileged to work here.
PD: What advice do you have for young people who may
find themselves homeless?
BK: As "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" would put it,
don't panic. Be as savvy as you can with the resources you have
available to you. Technology and social media are your friends,
so use them. With them, a world's entire wealth of information is
at your fingertips.
Online, you can search for jobs, stock up on survival tips, reach
out to others who've been there and might be able to point you
towards available resources or programs that can help you.
There is an entire community to help you through what you're
experiencing. And, of course, take care of yourself and your
mind. You are your own most valuable resource right now.