Not what you expect: working with the homeless


In 17 days, Brittany Sanzo raised $675 for the homeless.

Sanzo, a sophomore social work major, is using the money to create care packages and fill them with items like shampoo, socks, food and deodorant. So far, she has 35 reusable bags full of supplies ready to be given out.

Sanzo and her boyfriend, Clay Alldredge, plan to travel to Philadelphia the third week of October and hand out the bags to homeless people. They will use the extra money to take homeless people out to dinner.

This generosity stems from Sanzo’s recent experiences with Project Homeless Connect in Hagerstown and Harrisburg. Project Homeless Connect gives homeless people the opportunity to receive medical and social services in a single location.

Last semester, Sanzo volunteered at the event in Hagerstown, Maryland, and had the chance to get to know some of the people living on the streets.

“I just kind of went to get community services hours at first, but then once I did it I loved it,” Sanzo said. Through her experience, Sanzo realized that homelessness can happen to anyone.

One of the people she met at the Harrisburg Project Homeless Connect was a veteran with a degree from the University of Mississippi.

She wants to talk to homeless people and learn about their history while helping them at the same time.

At the Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg, Sanzo asked homeless people what they needed the most so she could purchase helpful items for her care packages. Some of the most requested items were socks and razors.

Through her conversations, Sanzo learned about the circumstances that brought people to homelessness.

“He was in the south tower when it got hit in 9/11,” Sanzo said of a man she met through Project Homeless Connect. “He got PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) from it…he watched his friends die.”

The stories of these people changed Sanzo’s outlook on homelessness. Originally from Ocean City, New Jersey, Sanzo grew up in a wealthy community. “I came from a town where people live in million dollar houses,” Sanzo said.

As a child, she visited Boston with her family and was startled by a homeless woman they passed on the street. “I was really very uneducated about poverty,” Sanzo said.

She feels that a lot of people are.

While preparing some of the care packages at the front desk in Presidents Hall, where Sanzo is a resident assistant, a resident approached her and asked what she was doing.

Once Sanzo explained, the resident made a generalization about most homeless people being drug addicts and alcoholics.

According to a 2010 study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 34.7 percent of homeless adults had chronic substance abuse issues. In Philadelphia, 31.2 percent of transitional homeless people and 50.5 percent of episodic homeless people had substance abuse issues.

That is not “most homeless people.”

“People judge homeless people so much and then you actually sit down, you talk with them and they’re not anything you would ever expect,” Sanzo said. “They’re humans too, regardless of their living situation.” In Harrisburg, Sanzo worked with a homeless man named Charles.

She ate with him, walked him around to different vendors, and just spent time with him. When Sanzo left, Charles cried.

Provoked by the experiences she had with Project Homeless Connect, Sanzo began fundraising in early September by asking friends and family for donations, and her website link kept spreading from there.

She plans to keep collecting donations to use the money for another round of care packages in the spring semester.

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