Brittany’s Story

*TRIGGER WARNING: Sexual Assault

Listen to Brittany’s Story on the Naming the Homeless Podcast, available on YouTube.

At the time of her interview, Brittany had just turned 30 years old. She celebrated her birthday on the streets of Philadelphia, as she had done for the past 5 years.

When she was 25, her dad was diagnosed with cancer. At the time, with no accessible treatment in her home state of Kentucky, Brittany uprooted her life to start anew in the City of Brotherly Love, where her dad could receive the care he needed and give him the best chance of survival.

“He ended up passing away, and I don’t have any other family,” she said. “I couldn’t afford where he was living, so I had to get out. [I’m homeless because] I don’t have an ID, or birth certificate, or social security card, and I have one arm… and I can’t find a job.”

After after being on a waitlist for six months, Brittany has again begun the process of being assigned to a social worker and is working on getting the proper identification she needs to get her foot in the door.

“They looked at me and they told me to go back home,” said Brittany, her voice tight. “If I had a home to go to; I would. I don’t have anybody back home [to go back to] either.”

This is nothing compared to the treatment that she has endured on the streets. As a young, single, homeless, handicapped female, she is seen as an easy target. Brittany has almost become desensitized to this type of treatment. She’s had to adapt to this lifestyle as a form of harm reduction, doing everything she can to prevent herself from being a victim. She’s afraid of being active at night, because she associates it with being taken advantage of.

“I’ve been robbed at gun point. Just recently, I was robbed at gun point. I’ve been dragged into alleyways by guys. I’ve woken up to guys… getting off on me,” Brittany said. “You know, because I’m a female, and I’m by myself. I try not to be out after dark. I know it can still happen in the day time, but it’s not as likely.”

She has reported these crimes, but the police haven’t taken her seriously, so she stopped coming forward.

“The cop said, ‘Ain’t nothin’ we can do.’ I said, ‘If I had money and a home, you could do something, huh?’ They just shrugged their shoulders,” she said.

Staying in shelters is not an option for her, she says. From the 3-4 that she has stayed in, she says that they are “disgusting” and that she can never get any rest while she’s there because she constantly has to be on alert for bed bugs, lice, having her things stolen, the expectation of having to leave during early cut off hours, lack of personal space, and many other obstacles.

“I ended up having to get rid of all of my [belongings] and chop all my hair. I had waist-length hair, now it’s like a boy’s hair cut because I caught head lice and couldn’t get rid of it,” she said, pointing at her choppy locks. Now, she rests where she can and faces whatever lies ahead.

At night, if Brittany hasn’t made enough money panhandling to afford a room, she seeks refuge in whatever public spaces she can find, or outdoors as a last resort. Most nights that’s the train station, where many others in her situation also seek shelter from the elements. Sleeping in the train station means putting yourself at risk of having your belongings stolen and being at risk of verbal and physical violence (much like living at a shelter, from her experience), and being removed from the premise entirely by the police.

“They wake us up at 6 a.m. and tell us that we have to leave, and it’s cold outside,” she said. “Sometimes it’s 2 a.m., like when it was Code Blue and freezing and they kicked us out.” Once, Brittany said an officer “yanked” her by her arm because she wasn’t moving fast enough for him.

Brittany recalls that, when she first moved to the city, the public was more receptive of her and acts of kindness were more common. Now she has hardly any human interaction on a daily basis.

“That was five years ago. Nowadays, they just stare at you and watch you and walk away,” she said. “I get ignored a lot [now],” she said.

Brittany feels like she has been fit into a box. She’s now viewed as any other homeless person is perceived by the general public, as someone who is lacking. Someone with less value. She wishes that she could be seen as who she really is, a person who struggles, just like everyone else.

“Not all homeless people are drug addicts or drunks. I mean, I’m not and I–I do this [panhandling] so that I have a place to sleep at night, and food, and I’m lucky if I make a freakin’ dollar. I’m out here for 2, 3 hours and I make nothing–nothing. There’s days where I make nothing at all,” she said, frustrated. “I wish that people would stop assuming that every homeless person is an addict, because it’s not true.”

Brittany agreed that even if someone is an addict, it does not mean that they aren’t deserving of basic kindness, she just wishes that everyone would stop limiting the homeless population to the same tired stereotype. Losing a family member that you depend on is a very real risk for homelessness for any of us. There are many people that have been close to being in Brittany’s situation without even realizing it, and they don’t see her an equal because they judge her without knowing her story. She finds this dehumanizing.

“The security guards inside of the mall, anytime a person goes in there and uses the bathroom, they run right in behind them, bang on the door, bust the door in and tells us that we have to leave and I look at him like, ‘What, I’m not a human? I have to go to the bathroom outside?’ He said, ‘Well, you can’t go here,'” she said. “You want me to go outside, like a dog, right?”

It’s this disconnect between her and her peers that constantly tests her faith. Brittany has a hard time understanding how a person can treat another person in this way, and struggles to not give in to this treatment and play the part of someone that really is lesser than everyone else.

“Don’t become homeless. People are like, ‘You wanted to become homeless.’ I really didn’t want to be in this situation. I get made fun of, I get put down, I get ignored, I’m invisible to people,” she said. “I’m what we homeless people refer to as a ‘trashcan,’ because they give us scraps of their food.”

Even though there are people who are trying to help, they aren’t thinking about how, as a homeless person, Brittany still has standards, and doesn’t want to accept someone’s left overs, or a PB&J sandwich that she doesn’t care for just because someone is offering it and they think that she should be grateful. This is a disconnect caused by the dehumanization of homelessness.

At lot of times, Brittany finds herself accepting the leftovers anyway, to avoid confrontational remarks like, “Oh, you really must not be hungry then.”

“Actually I am,” she continued. “Starving actually, but I’m not going to eat your food that you already had in your mouth.”

“I’ll tell you this, Philadelphia is not the ‘City of Brotherly Love, and I don’t think it ever has been,'” she said. When asked if she’s ever had any positive experience or interactions over the past five years, there weren’t any that she could recall besides having made a few connections in the city, including one that will lend her a room for a small fee, when she is able to pay it.

“At least he doesn’t ask me to have sex with him, like most of these guys out here do,” she said.

When she’s not able to accumulate the funds to reserve a room, she dreads having to sleep outside, and the weight of what that means and all that she has already experienced crushes her. “I know something bad always happens when I sleep outside,” she said, devastated.

“I’m most likely not even going to make it [tonight], and just that knowledge,” she says, holding in a sob. “Because I’m trying to make it through, and it makes me hate life.”

Despite the constant negativity that she faces, she still tries to find the positivity in it all. She’s holding out for one day when people might open their eyes and see her situation for what it really is: circumstantial.

“I try to help [others] as much as I can, whenever I have extra food or any extra money, I try to give a dollar to somebody. Because a dollar doesn’t do nothing [for me], you can’t even buy anything to eat with a dollar,” she said.

Even though though these acts are small to Brittney, they are still a tell of her true character, and how she has not let her circumstances strip her of her kindness. Still, she feels discouraged, the weight of her situation forcing her to remain in survival mode.

“As you can see, this whole time that you’ve been sitting here, not one person has stopped to help me, except the lady who gave me a sandwich” she said. “That’s how it is all the time, and I don’t ask for anything, even for someone to say hello to me. I just get ignored, I’m invisible to everybody out here.”

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