Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Pet Friendly Supportive Housing

Considering the people we serve in the "homelessness industry," it is shocking that ANY supportive housing project gets the green light while remaining "no pets."  How does this happen? I think it may be a lack of awareness on the part of program developers, or the complications of insurance, animal control, and the intersection of these issues. 
I want to spell it out clearly, once and for all.  If your organization is in the process of building supportive housing, and you havent figured out how to accommodate the dogs, cats, birds, and rats, you'd better start again.  The last thing street peeps need is another resource designed for somebody else. Here are some things to keep in mind when talking about housing people with pets:

1) They will die before they give up on their loved ones.  Why? Because despite the fact that teachers, judges, parents, and even outreach workers give up on people in crisis, most people who have been given up on have sworn to themselves that they will not do that. To anybody. Ever.
2) Asking them to give up their pets is the opposite of a client-centered approach.  Homeless people love their pets for a reason, we need to get behind them on that.
3) Anti-pet policies lack a trauma-informed approach.  You simply need to see how wonderful support animals are when it comes to trauma- they are incredibly therapeutic.
4) One of the biggest challenges to transitioning from the street is dealing with loneliness.  I dont think this point needs elaboration
5) Pets build community.  I am not a dog owner, but if I borrow one and go for a walk, I talk to more people, and more people talk to me.  Housing providers who want community engagement should consider pets as a catalyst (dog walking clubs, etc)
6) Pets take responsibility, which builds capacity.  When I was new in recovery, and complaining about my loneliness to a wise mentor, he said this: "Derek, why dont you get a goldfish? If its still alive after a year, try a dog... if the dog is still alive and well after another year, THEN you can try a relationship"   :)

I know some people will say "what about people with allergies, huh?"  While it is true that some people have such severe allergies that even being in the same apartment building as a cat will involve a trip to the hospital, this argument is as weak as saying "white people experience racism too!"  Yes there are people who cannot tolerate animals, but they are a small group, and much easier to accommodate.  For example, you could have ONE small "no pets" building in each town for these rare cases.
Insurance issues? Who doesnt have them? Pets are the LEAST of your liability concerns as a housing provider.  As long as your resident follows local bylaw requirements(and you support them to do so) you will be fine.
Housing providers: who are you building these units for? Look at the homeless population, and ask them.  Talk to your local animal control people, and start to understand this crucial issue.  No city can EVER hope to end homelessness without factoring in the intense love for animals many street people have.  We do this TOGETHER, doggies and all...


Anonymous said...

Great points

Anonymous said...

Brilliant work on highlighting the problems faced (not always obvious either) by the homeless, who are still stigmatised unfairly! Keep up the good work!