An argument I hear too often is that my time as an animal welfare advocate would be better spent helping the homeless. Thanks to the good folks in Riverside, California, now there’s a way to do both.
Yesterday the city opened a kennel at the Hulen Place emergency shelter, which provides temporary and longer-term housing for the homeless, as well as a drop-in center for mentally ill homeless people.
With 18 cages for companion animals, the 400-square-foot kennel is also eco-friendly, using recycled denim insulation, a rainwater-capture system and solar energy. Riverside County Animal Services volunteers will staff and clean the kennel, and the pet owners will care for their own animals.
According to Eva Yakutis, housing and neighborhoods manager, the entire structure cost less than $50,000 to build, and relied on federal grants and donated labor and materials.
Riverside’s hybrid shelter is only one of two such shelters in the country. The other is in Los Angeles.
In 2008, PATH Hollywood homeless shelter partnered with Petco and PAWS/LA to open Petco Place, a “shelter within a shelter” that provides kennels for homeless people who have companion animals. Funded by Petco and maintained by PAWS/LA and PATH, the kennel can house several dogs and cats.
Experts say that 5 to 10 percent of homeless people have companion animals. Since few homeless shelters will house animals, many people choose to remain on the streets rather than give up their pets.
“For many homeless people, their pet is their only companion,” says Joel John Roberts, CEO of PATH Partners. “Asking them to give up their dog or cat in order to get housing is like asking them to abandon their best friend.”
Neil Donovan, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, thinks this type of animal-human hybrid shelter will encourage more homeless people to come to the shelter.
“Instead of making that hard decision to give away or give to an animal shelter your pet, this is a great alternative,” he says. “I think it really speaks to the changing face of homelessness, and to some degree it also says that you’re looking at the individual less in a blaming way and more as someone who has found themselves in a certain condition.”
Although the Riverside and Los Angeles shelters are the only two in the country that currently offer kennels for homeless people’s pets, I wouldn’t be surprised if other cities followed suit. As Riverside has demonstrated, building such facilities doesn’t have to be expensive. Heck, it can be almost free if you can secure a sponsor like Petco!
Now when people ask me (always indignantly) how I can sleep at night because I volunteer with animals and not people, I can smile sweetly and refer them to two fine organizations where they can do both.