Sandoval: Making services and shelters pet friendly is vital to ending homelessness 
Cheryl Imus, 64, hopes to get into an apartment soon. She was recently swept from a homeless camp in Columbus Park. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

    One of the most vital goals of our work to end homelessness is to reduce barriers to services, shelter and housing. We know that these solutions work, but for a variety of reasons, people don’t always seek or accept them.

    One of the barriers to shelter or housing for people experiencing homelessness is pet ownership. Often, interim housing sites and rental units do not accept pets, even if they are service animals. At PATH, we try to reduce these barriers when possible and work to make our services and sites inclusive and accommodating to pets.

    We know that homelessness is a traumatic experience and for the individuals we serve, comfort and safety are often in short supply. Like many readers, our neighbors experiencing homelessness find support through their pet. Companionship, support and improvements to mental health are just some of the well-documented benefits of pet owners. The Mental Health Foundation found that caring for a pet can reduce anxiety, add structure to one’s life, and boost self-confidence, especially for those who feel isolated or misunderstood.

    Street outreach teams like the ones we operate at PATH succeed when our approach recognizes someone’s trauma and offers resources that meet that person’s individual needs. For pet owners, that almost always means a place to stay where they can keep their animal companion. Pet owners experiencing homelessness generally won’t accept a shelter arrangement that forces surrendering one of the only living beings giving that person unconditional support.

    As one of California’s largest and most impactful nonprofit homeless service providers, we believe that, when possible, people shouldn’t have to make that choice. In San Jose, our team members work to ensure that PATH services, interim housing, and permanent supportive housing communities are pet friendly. Studies show that between 10%-25% of people experiencing homelessness are also pet owners and for San Jose, that could mean 2,500 individuals with pets. That could mean 2,500 people who may face the choice of abandoning their pet or securing a safe roof over their head.

    We always look for ways to make our interim and supportive housing feel more welcoming, and accommodating pets is a big part of that. I’ve seen pets bring our residents out of severe depressive episodes and help de-escalate conflicts and panic attacks.

    Of course, as any pet owner knows, pets can be expensive. Operating budgets for homeless service providers are stretched thin as it is, so we understand why providers aren’t always able to make accommodations for pets. PATH partnered with the Human Society Silicon Valley’s (HSSV) Access to Care Program to provide pet services, through mobile clinics at Evans Lane, our interim housing site for families, and Villas on the Park, our permanent supportive housing community downtown.

    In early April, HSSV came to Villas on the Park to offer a pet clinic for residents. The pet clinic offered checkups, vaccinations, nail trimming and microchipping for residents’ pets. The vaccinations play a vital part of the onboarding process for our residents to add their pet to their lease for when they are moved in.

    This partnership has been hugely beneficial because most residents are unable to afford the vaccinations or are unable to get to the clinic due to lack of transportation. HSSV has been able to fund these services, and regular donations of cat and dog food for our outreach teams and for all of our PATH sites, through the generosity of donors. Kurt Krukenberg, HSSV president, shared, “HSSV is proud to have PATH as one of our first partners of our growing program to serve those in need in our community and we look forward to offering clinics on a regular basis.”

    In 2022, California offered small grants to homeless shelters to cover the daily costs of pet accommodation. PATH was fortunate enough to receive some of these limited funds at a few of our sites. These funds allowed us to provide care supplies and veterinary services for pets of our participants in our interim housing sites across the state. We made great use of the pet assistance funds by purchasing collars, leashes, flea and tick medicine, and other important items for any pet owner. We’ve also been able to cover veterinary services so everyone in the shelter, human and animal, stays healthy.

    While this was only one-time funding, PATH is proud to cosponsor Assembly Bill 1215, the Pets Assistance With Support Grant Program (PAWS) Act, this legislative session. This bill, proposed by Assemblymember Wendy Carillo of Los Angeles County, would set that program into law, so the state can offer consistent funding every year to service providers so they can accommodate pets onsite. We want to ensure that the services we were able to offer in the past become a regular resource – not just for PATH but for shelters across California.

    Whether through state funding, community partnerships, or our operating budgets, PATH is committed to assisting people experiencing homelessness and their beloved pets. We’ll continue to advocate for low-barrier services, and we’ll continue to welcome furry (and scaley, feathered, and otherwise) friends as well.

    San José Spotlight columnist Laura Sandoval is a regional director at PATH San Jose, a homeless services and housing development agency. She is also a licensed clinical social worker with over a decade of experience. Her columns appear every fourth Monday of every other month. Contact Laura at [email protected]

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