During her first year with the Student-Run Emergency Housing Unit of Philadelphia (SREHUP), Bethany Ho was a regular volunteer who just wanted to support the shelter which was founded by Villanova professor Stephanie Sena and her students. Ho then stepped up as President of the Villanova chapter, and from that position, she coordinated fundraisers and events to raise awareness on campus. Even after graduation from Villanova, Ho continues to support the pioneering movement as the first pet-friendly shelter and tiny home community.
Ho felt a calling to volunteer for SREHUP. “We often ignore the poverty and homelessness that others experience, brushing them off as an annoyance to ourselves and inconvenience to society. We distance ourselves from the struggle and consider them less than human,” Ho said. “SREHUP changes that ignorance by breaking down barriers and breaking bread with those experiencing homelessness. It brings students, who may have never been in company with them, into a community of compassion and empathy.”
Ho thinks most people try to help social movements when they have time, but then the cause becomes secondary to their busy lives. Ho had fit SREHUP into her busy schedule as a student and continues to now by prioritizing it in her life. Homelessness and poverty are issues that she is passionate about, so committing her time is a given rather than an afterthought.
When Ho first volunteered at SREHUP, she was surprised at how friendly the residents were. “They were eager to foster friendships and share their stories. It sounds crazy but I was honestly surprised at how they were just like everyone else,” she said. “That’s why I love working with SREHUP and helping its residents.”
Ho can’t think of a direct success story with SREHUP residents but her time with SREHUP has driven her to become passionate about the cause and especially empathetic for homeless individuals that she’s had conversations with outside of the SREHUP community. “I had an intensely honest conversation with two men experiencing homelessness who felt overwhelmingly pushed aside and ignored. They shared their stories and the way people treated them. It was emotional and there were tears,” added Ho. “But they were appreciative for a listening ear. They were thankful that someone cared. And I hope that hour of empathy and compassion gave them hope and comfort.”
Poverty and homelessness are not issues that can be fixed overnight. We cannot simply shelter individuals. “As we do that, in order to alleviate immediate suffering, we must also fight to alter the system that perpetually pushes people out of their homes. We must choose to care enough to both provide immediate care and commit to long term social change,” Ho concluded.
My Philly Neighbor is a project done in collaboration with Broke In Philly, a news media initiative among 19 local news organizations to provide in-depth, nuanced and solutions-oriented reporting on the issues of poverty and the push for economic justice in Philadelphia.