Bill Would Help Homeless Shelters Cover Cost Of Pets

May 21, 2019

By Reporter Lynn Walsh

A bill making its way through the California Legislature would provide $5 million to help shelters better serve homeless pet owners.

Senate Bill 258 is expected to be heard on the Senate floor this month. The bill would provide grants to California homeless shelters through the Department of Housing and Community Development. The grants would help cover the costs of providing shelter, food and basic veterinary care for pets whose owners are homeless.

California Senate Bill 258 would provide $5 million to help shelters better serve homeless pet owners.

State Senator Bob Hertzberg, who introduced the bill, cited a statistic from the non-profit Pets of the Homeless, which estimates 5-10% of the 3.5 million homeless Americans own pets.

In San Diego, the Alpha Project estimates 10% of the people in their shelter own a pet. Chief Operating Officer Amy Gonyeau said they allow pets because not doing so can be a deterrent for people to access services.

“Our philosophy is, as long as your pet is behaving, you're taking care of it and it’s not disrupting, we have a lot of tolerance,” she said. “Now as soon as that does happen we have to do something about that.”

Gonyeau said the Alpha Project does not set aside funds specifically to care for these animals so this funding would be a big help.

“The more services that we can give people the better,” she said. “Even when it gets cold out, you need doggy jackets because your dog is outside in the rain and it’s cold. So, there’s a lot of ancillary things we could purchase for the clientele supply-wise. But we could even provide some help to the animals themselves.”

She said they rely heavily on donations and partnerships with other organizations like the Helen Woodward Animal Center and Vet2You.

Geraldine D’Silva, Director of "PAWS San Diego" at the San Diego Humane Society, said they support this bill because it directly relates to the work they are currently doing.

Through its PAWS program, she said they are on track to serve 1.7 million meals to pets in need this year. Last year they provided 1.5 million.

“If we can have more pet-friendly housing, and housing that supports the needs of pets, we will actually bridge the gap between social services and animal healthcare so we can find a larger solution to help those in need,” D’Silva said.

In addition to meals, the program can provide pet owners with leashes, clothing and veterinary services to pet owners in need. Their goal is to keep the pet with the family, D’Silva said and the service relies heavily on donations from the community.

In an email, Shannon Sneade, a representative for Father Joe's Villages, said the organization “has accepted companion pets (as defined by state law) for many years, and many people at the Village make use of this policy.”

The Humane Society has a complete guide of the services available for those who may need help.