By Dan Baldwin | May 15, 2011
The joys of camping; birds chirping joyous harmonies, picnic tables covered with a blue and white checkered pattern tablecloth, sleeping in a tent under the stars, and fighting off rats the size of small cats.
For Diana Brooks, this isn’t camping. To her, this is surviving. And her home is tucked away behind a few trees next to a Royal Farms gas station.
“I don’t like to be hassled about where I’m living,” Brooks said. “I love this. I don’t like the rats, that’s a draw back. All you smell is honeysuckle and wood and hear the birds. I dig it.”
Brooks, 48, has been homeless since November of last year, passing though mental hospitals and homeless shelters until she finally found herself living on the streets.
“I worked at a RE/MAX that had a cleaning service and most of my clients were Realtors,” Brooks said. “And when the bottom fell out in ’08 I just kept hanging on and little by little I was going under.”
Her employers were constantly trying to call. But already knowing the unfortunate news, Brooks refused to pick-up the phone. And yet, her bad luck continued.
“Then I was hit by an elderly gentleman and I totaled my car,” she said. “When the guy’s insurance company paid me off, my mother spent the money. That was nine grand that could have gotten me out of a hole. I kind of have a dirty family.”
Feeling betrayed and an intense hatred toward her mother, Brooks was unsure of what to do. She eventually decided it would be in everyone’s best interest to seek help at a mental institute. Mainly because she thought she was homicidal toward her mother.
“I went into a psychiatric hospital because I felt like I needed it,” Brooks said. “They got me into Mosaic and then Sheppard Pratt. The Sheppard Pratt got me into the [Eastern Family Resource Center] shelter. I was there for a while and I just couldn’t tolerate it there anymore. It was dirty, there are thieves, snitches, and I’m not about all that. I kind of kept to myself.”
Brooks stayed at the shelter in eastern Baltimore County for about four months until she was sexually harassed at night and thought the streets would be a safer place, she said.
While on the streets, a friend introduced her to a group of other homeless individuals who, at the time, camped behind the Renegade Classics motorcycle shop on the 9000 block of Pulaski Highway.
“I just love the fact that this whole community just looks out for me,” Brooks said.
She recently met a man from Rosedale Baptist Church who took her to a Mars grocery store down the road to get something to eat, she said. Not wanting to take advantage of the man, she left the store with only hotdogs, buns, and an onion.
The people of the Royal Farms have been very generous with Brooks. The manager made an agreement that if Brooks cleans up the wooded area, she could set-up camp.
“It’s just a terrible situation,” said Royal Farms employee, Tammy Duke. “We just want to help out as much as we’re able to. I’m not even sure if that’s Royal Farms’ property or not.”
The Royal Farms is not the only business that is reaching out to offer support. The Gulf gas station on the other side of Middle River road allows Brooks to stand on their street corner and panhandle on a daily basis.
“Diana seems genuinely in need,” said the manager of the Gulf station, David Pittington. “As long as she stays on the sidewalk, I don’t care. If she doesn’t mess with my business, I won’t mess with hers.”
Brooks said the Gulf station employees are kind enough to give her cigarettes, wood, and other supplies and allow her to pay her debt back when she has the funds. The employees also let her have access to their water anytime of day. They even let her charge her portable DVD player on their premises.
It is a relationship she does not want to tarnish. Because standing on that street corner is Brooks’ main source of income.
“I need money for propane, which I am saving a little bit more of,” Brooks said. “And batteries. I need batteries. That’s a big thing. Bread and things like that. Just simple things.”
Even though Brooks has just moved into her new home in the woods, she can only think of the future. Summer is only so long and she won’t be about to survive the winter with her current supplies.
“If I had a bigger tent and a heater, I’d stay here all year,” she said. “I’m looking into it though. I can’t fit a heater in my tent.”
If she isn’t able to acquire a proper heater, she plans to move in with a friend during the cold months of winter. But Diana enjoys living outdoors so much, she will probably return to her camp in the summer, she said.
Of course, Diana hopes that one day she can replace her hot plate for an actual stove and to replace her tent with a more permanent home.
“I would like to actually put a key in my door, and open it, by myself,” Brooks said.
Homelessness in Baltimore County has increased in recent years. Which is why the county has begun to take measures to eliminate homelessness within the next 10 years. Read more>>
The homeless and shelter employees alike are all eagerly anticipating results in Baltimore County’s plan to end homelessness. Read more>>
During Baltimore County’s annual Point-in-Time survey, a type of homeless census, 881 homeless individuals were found. Browse their locations in an easy to follow map. Read More>>
Condition of Nehemiah House
Jimmy Botch is homeless in Baltimore County. He has lived in the Nehemiah House, the only shelter in eastern Baltimore County for men. Hear his opinion of the shelter. Read More>>