Lisa Trunzo knows that the Cardboard City Campout doesn’t give people a true feeling for living on the street. Sleeping in a safe park, surrounded by friends, in a box house built with hopes of winning “best decorated” or “most creative” awards doesn’t truly emulate life on the streets.
The founder and president of Hannah’s Homeless, a St. Petersburg nonprofit dedicated to helping local homeless people, knows this because she spent 17 years of her life homeless. She ran away at age 11 and lived on the St. Petersburg streets, off and on, until she was 28.
“I live a completely different life,” Trunzo says. Today, she owns a home, runs Hannah’s Homeless, and holds a job, but she remembers all too well the feeling of life on the street. She speaks candidly about her past drug use, arrests, and the daughter she didn’t get to raise.
“Hannah was the name of the daughter I gave up for adoption when I was homeless,” she says. She gave Hannah up for adoption as a newborn. That was 14 years ago this past July.
Two years after surrendering her daughter to what she hoped would be a better life, Trunzo found the strength to get off the streets.
“The last time I got arrested, I was pretty well done,” she says. “I went to jail. I was using drugs. I had police officers tell me I was a shell of a person, a ghost. I was spiritually, emotionally just dead.”
Today, she presides over an eight-member board focused on finding people homes. Although severe rains ultimately canceled the second annual “Cardboard City Campout” at Boyd Hill this past weekend, Saturday afternoon people erecting cardboard homes still held out hope they’d make it through the night.
Last year, Campout participants built and slept in cardboard boxes. Hannah’s Homeless received donated prizes it awarded for the biggest house, best decorated and most creative. Campers ate a soup kitchen-styled meal; later in the evening, the plan was to roast marshmallows over a campfire.
Although rains drove campers home, Trunzo remained hopeful.
“I was really bummed by the bad weather and us having to pack up and leave early,” Trunzo wrote on Hannah’s Homeless Facebook page. “Then a friend pointed out that we are lucky that we have the chance to get up and leave. We had dry clothes at home and homes to go to. The folks that we here at Hannah’s Homeless serve are predominately those deemed as ‘chronically homeless’ and they do not have homes to go to or dry clothes to go inside and change into.”
Trunzo hopes to raise enough money to open a drop-in shelter in St. Petersburg, but she says the main problem comes from potential landlords.
“People don’t want to rent to us,” she says. When Hannah’s Homeless does get its shelter, she says she’ll keep the motto “Housing First” and welcome anyone. Many shelters require sobriety or other lifestyle commitments before allowing a homeless person assistance.
“I really believe in getting the person off the street,” she says. “No one’s going to get sober on the street. That’s how they deal with the fact that they’re homeless.”
Donate to Hannah’s Homeless drop-in shelter project at indiegogo.com/projects/hannah-s-homeless-drop-in-center.
Contact Cathy Salustri at CathySalustri@TheGabber.com.