Stephanie Sena has run a homeless shelter out of the basement of Arch Street United Methodist Church for six years. And each year she reaches out for donations and support in order to stay open from November through April.
“I’ve been yelling from the rooftops, ‘Our neighbors are dying on the streets,’ and money is slowly trickling in,” Sena said.
This summer, she started pitching an idea to open a new shelter that would allow people to bring in their pets.
That’s taught her something about what people value:
“People are coming out of the woodwork with everything from wanting to offer me free grooming, vet care, crates,” she said. “People want to come walk the dogs, people want to come pet the dogs, people want to donate dog blankets.
“For the [homeless] people, the response has been ‘eh,’ but for the dogs, it turns out these are going to be the best-cared-for dogs in Philadelphia.”
Sena, 38, a history professor at Villanova University, founded the Student-Run Emergency Housing Unit of Philadelphia, a network of eight universities whose students staff the shelter on Arch Street. Over the years she has had to turn away dozens of people with pets, since animals aren’t allowed in the church. On the freezing cold or swelteringly hot days, she worries where they go.