Student-run homeless shelter taking shape

    Preparations for a student-run homeless shelter in Philadelphia are kicking into high gear. Organizers say they will open the doors in November.

    Right now, the basement of Philadelphia’s Arch Street United Methodist church is empty. But Villanova professor Stephanie Sena envisions one half of the room filled with cots, the other half as a dining and living space.

    Sena heads the effort to create a shelter run and staffed by students. She plans a holistic program that includes art projects and yoga. It will house 30 residents who will be there from November until April. Sena says the shelter’s mission goes beyond providing an escape from the elements.

    “Our goal is to transition people out of homelessness by linking them to resources they need,” said Sena. “This is not a band-aid, this is a stop to transition people and get them into affordable housing.”

    Sena has rounded up more than 200 students to staff the shelter. She says they will gain a deeper understanding of the issues surrounding homelessness, and learn leadership and management skills along the way. She got the idea for a student-run shelter from the Harvard Square shelter in Massachusetts.

    Candice Suida of Delaware County Community College says she got involved because she has known several people who became homeless, including family members.

    “It’s something that I empathize with and I feel like it’s looked over in our society, and I definitely want to dedicate my life to ending,” she explained.

    Brianna Fram studies at the University of Pennsylvania, and was looking for a way to make a difference, since she sees homeless people on her West Philadelphia campus every day.

    “It really pains me to walk past it and feel that there’s nothing I can do to affect long-term change. You can give someone a dollar, but it’s not really doing anything,” she said.

    Under the leadership of Sena, students are currently working to raise money for the shelter’s $60,000 operating budget, and to get other donations. They are also working with the city’s homeless organizations to identify the 30 men who will spend the winter in their shelter.

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