The past year has been full of financial difficulty nationally that is having painful consequences, cutting back the social services and community programs that help the least advantaged in our society. Old First has seen first hand the increasing need for food and housing in our community. More guests at the Cupboard each Saturday; more people asking about social services often.
Concerned about how social services for the needy are become harder to find, Old First is trying to figure how we can step up to the plate to help our homeless and needy neighbors more. But how?
The end of the 2010-2011 shelter season was difficult as our shelter partner, The Bethesda Project, experienced a deficit they could not bear– FEMA funding for their work was outstanding and not assured. Old First raised an unbudgeted $6,000 on the spur of the moment to keep the shelter open until the end of our scheduled season.
Facing another shelter season when federal funding (that provides for the night supervision and social services through Bethesda) was unsure, our outreach ministry teams have been putting their heads together for the last six months to come up with ways to bridge the financial gap we might face this year.
Through a serendipitous series of referrals and word of mouth, we have come into contact an additional partner we believe will serve to help Old First and Bethesda with the shelter. The Student Run Emergency Housing Unit of Philadelphia (SREHUP) is a new organization modeled on a Harvard University program that has served the homeless for 30 years. It will bring students from Drexel, Penn, Swarthmore and Villanova to work with homeless people on issues of shelter, advocacy and housing alternatives. In many ways, SREHUP intends to be a more intensive experience for college students of what Old First already offers volunteer groups through our shelter dinner programs.
We are excited to have SREHUP working with Bethesda and Old First this year. The partnership brings SREHUP’s additional human and financial resources to the work that Old First and Bethesda have been doing together. It also offers SREHUP, in its first year of operation, the experience and assistance of Old First and Bethesda as they get their feet wet in the business of offering people shelter.
We hope this new partnership will produce more service and help for our shelter residents as well as offer college students an transformative experience of service and insight into issues of urban poverty.
SREHUP brings to the table (and to Old First) college volunteers who will prepare and share meals with our guests (when we don’t have other outside groups providing shelter dinners). They will also stay over at the shelter as assistants to the night supervisor. Finally, they will be involved as well in other aspects of service to our shelter residents: fundraising efforts for the partnering organizations, advocacy, food procurement, locating alternative housing and necessary social services.
Bethesda will continue to handle the basic intake, night supervision and case management for our shelter. The actual operation of our shelter will run much like it has in the past, though there will be more volunteers in the mix. And, we believe, a marked rise in our service to our “customers.”
Building trust and creative effective working partnerships are not without their bumps. But we believe the rewards of our new partnership will be worth the work. Already, beginning to develop new ways of cooperating has helped us to evaluate our past efforts and begin to think about some of the bigger issues around homelessness.
This year, both dinner and breakfast meals will be served at Old First for our shelter guests this year. And SREHUP is planning to offer activities for the men of our shelter, on occasion during the day, both here and off site throughout the November ’11 to April ’12 season.
Look for more information soon on our website. You can also check out the Student Run Emergency Housing Unit of Philadelphia’s Facebook page.
And please be ready to welcome the new faces of college students who will work alongside of us to care for people who otherwise would not have an alternative to cold, winter streets.
Billi, Outreach Coordinator