Shelter would welcome families and pets

Stephanie Sena wants to bring a shelter for homeless people and animals to Frankford.

Stephanie Sena wants to make sure homeless people aren’t separated from their animals if they go to a shelter. (Supplied photo)

Stephanie Sena doesn’t easily get discouraged.

That’s why she’s so confident in her latest venture.

Sena has run a homeless shelter in the Arch Street United Methodist Church’s basement for the past eight years, and during her time doing this, she noticed a few problems.

One of the biggest ones was seeing people with animals who needed shelter.

Like most shelters, Sena was unable to accomodate people with dogs or cats, and many times, instead of staying in a shelter and turning their dogs over to an animal shelter, the people would stay on the street with their best friends.

“The way it worked was the people would have to turn the animals into a shelter where they’re going to get adopted right away, or sadly euthanized,” said Sena, who lives in South Philadelphia. “They wouldn’t do that. They wouldn’t give them up, so I figured we needed a place where they can all stay safe.”

That was a good start.

But Sena wanted so much more.

So through her group, the Student-Run Emergency Housing Unit of Philadelphia, she and her board members came up with a plan for a home that would allow homeless people to bring their pets, but also get so much more.

Unlike living in the basement of a church, Sena envisioned a place that would help people with addiction problems, give them the opportunity to get a GED, learn how to use computers and give people a bridge to go from needy to productive members of society.

Her group, better known as SREHUP, would not just help the homeless people with their shelter problem, but give them a chance to get back on the path to getting their own home. And by allowing animals, it would allow the homeless people to do it while keeping their best friend by their side.

“The biggest problem for people in the city isn’t that they don’t have jobs, but they can’t afford rent,” said Sena, who is an adjunct professor at Villanova. “We want to help them. The problem is income is low and housing is high. We want to make sure they can do it.”

It looked like Sena had the perfect spot picked out, but as with everything, there are loopholes and obstacles to overcome.

SREHUP found the perfect spot for their plans at 5001 Frankford Ave. just down the road from Aria-Jefferson Health Frankford.

The group had the money and Sena is never short on plans. She figured the massive building could house 100 rooms and she was set to develop a roof garden where people could grow their own food.

It all seemed so perfect, but not all Frankford residents felt that way.

“People were concerned, and I don’t blame them in some ways because they don’t know me and they don’t know what I’ve been doing,” Sena said. “I went to a meeting in Frankford and heard their concerns, but I 100 percent know that if they saw what we are going to do, they would love it.”

Sena doesn’t want to disrupt the neighborhood.

She doesn’t want to bring undesirables to her house. The mother of two children, 11 and 9, wants to reach out and help people who need it, and in the process, she wants to be a resource for the neighborhood.

“I think when you do something like this, you would have people not wanting it no matter where you tried it,” said Sena, who has had contact with other neighborhoods, including Kensington, in hopes of bringing the shelter there. “I’m very community oriented. If we go to a neighborhood, we’re going to work with them. We want to see neighborhoods flourish.

“I really believe we would bring jobs. Our hope is to have a computer center and we would open it up to the public, and I believe they need that. We know the perception, we’re going to help a neighborhood. If they saw it, they would want it.”

Detractors aside, Sena isn’t worried about her dream not becoming a reality.

You don’t do what she’s done for the past eight years by pouting when things don’t go your way.

She’s seen more than her fair share of obstacles thrown in her direction since she started working with SREHUP, and she’s always persevered.

Part of that is her attitude and part of that is the groups she works with.

“I fully expect this to work out,” Sena said. “I’m really lucky that we have partnered with so many great groups. So many. We have great legal teams, I have a great Realtor in Stephanie Slapin at Keller Williams. And so many great groups have helped us. Then you have the great people at the Morris Animal Refuge. They are amazing people and they’ve gone so far out of their way to help us.

“The Morris Animal Refuge is an amazing place. It was started by Elizabeth Morris, who was a trailblazer in animal welfare, and this is something they wanted to be a part of because it is along the same lines. It’s helping animals.”

Dogs, in fact all of the animals, are proving to be man’s best friend.

Sena has noticed the animal activists in Philadelphia don’t play games when it comes to helping their furry friends.

“I”m learning a lot of people like animals more than people,” Sena said with a laugh. “We’ve had a lot of them step up and try to help. It’s great to see. It’s been great to see how many people want this. We’ve had great support from a lot of great people.

“I really believe it’s going to happen and we’re not giving up.”

She is also thankful for the help she’s had.

“This is a ridiculously hard task and I could never do it alone. Specifically Lucy Noland, who has been by my side for the entire thing. She makes the connections and opens doors that close in my face.

“And my partners at the Morris Animal Refuge, CEO Lewis Cecchia and director Elisa Mellis. And my board of directors, staffed with former students, who are obsessed with SREHUP and work around the clock.

“I have a ton of amazing support.”