Pets can improvise. - Photo by D Owens
THE National Alliance to End Homelessness report of January 2007 stated that between 744,313 and 804,212 people in the United States experienced homelessness in January 2005 on any given night.
But more disturbing were the figures for the unshielded during that time, a record 322,050. Reasons are across the board as to why - from the economy, shortages of shelters and money to run them, low-income housing shortages, the disabled, to drug and alcohol addictions, spousal abuse and more. Or perhaps, people choose to live on the street because they have a pet and can not find a shelter that will allow their pets. There are no surveys for this information but it has been estimated by the National Coalition for the Homeless acting executive director, Michael Stoops, that between five and 10 percent of homeless people have dogs and/or cats. In some areas of the country that number is greater.
Monte Fast, executive director of Friends in Service Helping (FISH) says the figure is more like 25 percent. Many rural homeless people live in places we do not see; they often are sleeping in the woods, camping grounds, cars, abandoned farm buildings, or other places not intended for habitation. Many more individuals and families in rural areas live in sub-standard housing or are doubled up. The January 2007 national count of homeless people found that nine percent live in rural areas.
There is mounting evidence that all people need pets. A leading proponent of this theory, Dr Boris Levinson, Professor of Psychology at Yeshiva University and a clinical psychotherapist, stated in his 1997 book Pet-Oriented Child Psychotherapy: “In this very busy twentieth century, man is a lonely creature. There are too many alienated individuals who lack human companionship. They lack purpose and productivity. A simple addition to these lonely lives can sometimes accomplish major changes. The possession of a pet, who eagerly awaits one and responds to one's care and attention, may mean the difference between maintaining contact with reality or almost total withdrawal into fantasy. Literally, a pet can occasionally represent the difference between life and death.
"Other apparent reasons why people need pets are the increasingly urban nature of our society, the separation of children and adults from farm animals and from nature, the separation of families, where older persons and unmarried adults often live alone, and the desire for personal protection.”
Levenson’s theory is correct as to why people have pets and it rings especially true for the animal lovers of America where over half of the households have at least one cat or dog sharing the home and the nationwide annual expenditures on pet products and services are over 40 billion dollars a year. But for the disadvantaged; shelters, low cost apartments, and motel rooms do not normally allow pets. So the disadvantaged must choose between their pet and a roof over their head. Finding any kind of shelter for the homeless with pets is near impossible but finding food may have just gotten easier. A new program to help feed the pets of the homeless and disadvantaged was launched in December, Feeding Pets of the Homeless. The program enrolls veterinarian hospitals and clinics around the country to collect pet food from their clientele in their communities through a publicity campaign. Then the hospital/clinic partners with a local food bank, shelter or soup kitchen. The food bank then distributes the pet food to those in need.
The hospitals/clinics that have enrolled are taking a big step to help those less fortunate and the pets that provide the homeless with an emotional bond of loyalty and comfort while being non-judgmental and some provide the homeless with protection and warmth.
More information on the program can be found at www.petsofhomeless.com
The 10 worst states and cities with unsheltered homeless are:
California 118,275; Los Angeles City & County 50,414; Florida 35,340; Punta Gorda/Charlotte County 4634; Texas 20,213; Houston/Harris County 6583; Michigan 15,146; Detroit 10,516; Colorado 14,294; Denver 5089; Nevada 9702; Las Vegas/Clark County 9424; Washington 9520; Seattle/King County 2216; Oregon 8446; Portland/Gresham/Multnomah County 2355; Georgia 8428; Augusta 732; New York 6111; New York City 4395.