SACRAMENTO February 20, 2019 – Senate Majority Leader Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) announced that he introduced SB 258, an effort to provide additional shelter options for individuals experiencing homelessness who have pets.
On any given night in California, 130,000 people are without a home. And of those, the state has the highest percentage of unsheltered individuals experiencing homelessness in the country, at slightly under 70 percent, according to data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
According to Pets of the Homeless, an estimated five to ten percent of the 3.5 million Americans that are experiencing homelessness have dogs or cats. Unfortunately, many of those individuals refuse housing and forego access to services because doing so may require them to abandon their pet. In Los Angeles, only six shelters out of 46 in the region allow pets onsite.
SB 258 allocates $5,000,000 in grants to be distributed to homeless shelters that provide shelter, food, and basic veterinary services to the pets of people experiencing homelessness.
“The act of opening up shelters to pets may seem simple, but it will have a huge impact on the goal of reducing the number of individuals who are sleeping on the streets,” said Senator Hertzberg. “Providing these resources for shelters is just one small way we can make a dent in this incredible issue facing our state, while also improving the lives of our most vulnerable.”
“As a service provider, we often find that people experiencing homelessness will refuse Bridge Housing if it means leaving their support animal behind,” added Stephanie Klasky-Gamer, President & CEO of LA Family Housing. “Allowing support animals onsite eliminates that barrier, allowing us to keep the unit together, and move more people off of the streets.”
According to the British Journal of Occupational Therapy, pets provide warmth, security, and companionship to many individuals who sleep on the street. Some also suggest that caring for a pet provides a much-needed feeling of normalcy; for many, the simple act of providing food and water to their pet may even help to keep their humanity intact.
In Sacramento, where the county’s shelters have differing policies regarding pets, Front Street Animal Shelter has stepped in to provide everything from kenneling and microchipping to food and leash donations for the pets of individuals in shelters – all out of its own operational budget.
“It is imperative that funding be included for the animal component if we are ever to solve the homeless crisis,” said Gina Knepp, Manager of Front Street Animal Shelter. “Pets are family, the human animal bond is not diminished whether living on the streets or living in a home. Failure to appropriately give consideration to this aspect of the crisis would be a travesty. The positive impact on the lives of pet owners experiencing homelessness would exponentially rise should we do what is most humane and humanitarian for both ends of the leash.”
While Knepp’s model has worked on a small scale, statewide leadership is needed to begin to shelter more people in California. During his State of the State Address, Governor Newsom urged the state to act on this issue, expressing that local jurisdictions “can’t do it alone.” SB 258 is a strong first step.