By Janinne Brunyee
“Is a good life better than the life I live?” Not only is this a line from a Kanye West song, but also a question 24-year-old Brillian asked himself the first night he was homeless. As Veterans Day approached, I thought of soft-spoken Brillian, a very young veteran, who served in Korea. I met him at Compass at First Presbyterian a week or so after he and his brother moved in. I was immediately charmed by his gentleness, love of music and drive to create a better life for himself.
“Dion got a job working the night shift as a cook at Denny’s making good money, so the ball got rolling for us to afford a place to live somewhere,” he said. Before landing a job as a server at Denny’s too, Brillian spent ten or more hours a day working at Mr. Rooter.
“We were putting the money we earned towards a hotel, but then it got too pricey for us to sustain ourselves for a whole week, so we had to go to Project Nightwatch.”
The realities of shelter living soon began to take a toll. Brillian had nowhere to leave his stuff while he was working. So he had no choice but to bring his suitcase with him to work. And showering or washing his clothes? Not many opportunities there either.
Brillian soon learned an important lesson: When you are homeless, the small things become really important. “I never realized how big these things are—like putting on lotion, having toothpaste to brush your teeth or deodorant—until you need them. It makes you realize what others don’t have.”
Working Full Time, Living Day-to-Day
The brothers were both working 40-hours a week. So why so many obstacles to finding housing? Brillian explained that they never had enough money together to get their foot in the door. They got paid every two weeks and their first paycheck was delayed.
They spent whatever money they had on motels, because traditional shelter didn’t accommodate their night work schedule. Brillian and Dion were just living day-to-day and they often ended up at the Seattle Public library.
“It was just existing, walking around tired all the time, like a zombie,” Brillian recalled.
Working the night shift was tough in many ways. “There was nowhere to be. Most places don’t open until 10 A.M. So, all you could do was stand around outside trying not to be seen. But the truth is that when you’re carrying around a big suitcase, everyone sees you.”
Moving into Compass at First Presbyterian, where he could stay all day and store his stuff, was a major relief. “I cried. I finally felt like I was human again. I knew that I now had some stability and consistency.”
Brillian was comforted by the fact that everything would be there for him when he got off work. Now he is working with a Housing Navigator to find affordable housing which would allow him to move out.
Music, Dreams, and Moving Forward
As Brillian looks to his future and his version of the American dream, he looks to music. “Music to me is magical. It is something I feel really deeply about. I want to be that calm, soothing voice, something that anyone can listen to.”
And this brings us back to the song, “The Good Life” and Brillian’s musical heros, Kanye West and T-Pain. When I asked if he would sing something, he offered a verse from this song:
Is a good life better than the life I lived?
When I thought that I was gonna go crazy,
And now my grandmomma
Ain’t the only girl callin me “baby.”
If you feelin’ me now
Then put yo’ hands up in the sky, and let me hear you say
Heyy, heyy, ooooh I’m GOOD!
And, Brillian has every reason to feel good. Last week, as we approached Veterans Day, he was approved to move into his own studio apartment in the University District.