Dinner Shift: 5:30 pm - 9:00 pm. Dinner volunteers have a wide variety of tasks to help with, from food salvaging from the dining haslls and local strores, cooking dinner, and preparing the shelter for the arrival of guests, to greeting guests as they arrive, serving dinner, and cleaning up after dinner. When not doing chores, volunteers are free to sit back, chat, play cards or board games or watch TV and movies with the guests.
The Student-Run Emergency Housing Unit of Philadelphis will bring students from Philadelphia universities together with the most marginalized members of society - people experiencing homelessness so that each group will have a profoundly and mutually beneficial impact on the other. The same 30 guests will stay and keep thir belongings in the emergency housing unit for the entire winter. This will allow the guests and volunteers to build a sense of community with each other. There will be a wide variety of holistic opportunities available to the guests. These rance from art and yoga programs, to medical care, computer literacy and money-management classes, job training and house hunting. The fact that the unit is only open in the winter will instill in the staff a sense of urgency to place these individuals's needs and link them to the available resources in Philadelphia that are necessary for transitioning out of homelessness. The experience of running and emergency housing unit will allow these students to break out of their comfortable environment. They will put names and faces to the problem of homelessness and develop relationships with the guests that will compel them to reconsider some of their ideas about poverty and hoelessness. They will also start to comprhend the structural barriers that are in place which make it difficult to climb out of homelessness. Student volunteers will be given a myriad of opportunities to advocate legislatively on behalf of people experiencing homelessness. SREHUP will send students to D.C., Philadelphia, and Harrisburg to work with local and national representatives on issues of education reform, job creation, and fair housing initiatives. During and after graduation these students will work for the systematic changes that are needed to fix the problem of homelessness, so that emergency housing units are no longer needed in the future.
There are three different shelters, each which has its own “typical shift”; I can only speak on behalf of Old First. Upon arriving at Old First, volunteers will assemble the tables and chairs and set tables. Once that task is completed, volunteers will cook dinner with supplies which have been left for them, reheat leftovers, or assist with dinner preparation with a volunteer church group. Once guests arrive at approximately 6:30pm or 7:00pm, the volunteers serve dinner to the guests. Once all the guests have
been served, volunteers get their own dinner, sit down and eat with the guests. After everyone has finished eating their dinner and dessert, we will begin cleaning dishes and storing excess food. Once dish cleaning is complete and the kitchen is clean, volunteers can visit with the guests. Volunteers typically chat, watch TV or play board games with the guests.
SREHUP has been a catalyst in changing my perception of homelessness, poverty and the system which causes both. I began volunteering at SREHUP with a restricted view of those whose faces make up the homeless and why they were there. Through SREHUP my eyes were opened to the fact that homelessness can strike anyone, and many of the guests were not at fault for their situation. The men are some of the most amazing people that I have ever met, and through the conversations that I have had over dinner and playing games, I formed friendships and bonds with the guests. SREHUP is a community, and the guests are welcoming and gracious to the volunteers. It is a bittersweet moment when the guests receive their own housing and move out of the shelter. It is an exciting to see them move past this phase in their lives, but it is simultaneously sad since these men have become my friends; I likely will never see them again. Lastly, SREHUP has a flexible schedule. Volunteers can go any night of the week, and like any other college student, my schedule was constantly changing. By volunteering at SREHUP I had the freedom to choose what day of the week I went depending upon academic and work schedule. Also, another plus is that the dinners that are cooked are absolutely delicious and welcome change from the monotony of the dining halls' menus.