People with Pets Experiencing Homelessness

Person with dog on street

Homelessness is a complex social problem that includes people residing in temporary or transitional shelters, living on the streets or in vehicles, or staying temporarily with friends or family. Financial instability, a lack of housing affordable to lower income households, and unanticipated expenses can easily lead to homelessness. However, the causes of homelessness vary widely: untreated mental health conditions, domestic violence, job loss and eviction, among many other factors, can all lead to temporary or chronic homelessness. The responses needed to regain housing stability are equally as varied.

In 2020, roughly 580,000 people were experiencing homelessness in the United States on a given night. This number represented the fourth consecutive year that homelessness had increased nationwide. While recent counts were paused due to the pandemic, it is anticipated that this trend has continued, and even worsened, given the high rates of housing instability created by virus-related impacts.

Although one size may not fit all in securing permanent housing for individuals, data demonstrates that there are a number of critical barriers that lead some unhoused individuals to refuse shelter. One such barrier is a lack of emergency or temporary housing that accommodates pets.

In 2019, it was estimated that 12% of unsheltered homeless adults owned pets. According to a study conducted two years prior, 48% of unhoused pet-owning individuals reported being turned away from a shelter because of pet policies. Similarly, the National Alliance to End Homelessness conducted a survey to assess why individuals experiencing homelessness avoid shelters, and 22% of respondents indicated they avoided shelter because their pet was not allowed to be with them.

While unhoused individuals with pets undoubtedly experience additional hardships as most support resources are not available to those living with a companion animal, many will refuse assistance if it comes with a condition of giving up a beloved pet. As with housed persons, the companionship, support and unconditional love provided by that pet is invaluable. Studies have shown that people experiencing homelessness report that their pets provide a sense of responsibility and are a reason to live, reduce substance use, and motivated them to seek healthcare. Moreover, pets are viewed as a stable source of social support, companionship and security.

The ASPCA has been working to promote solutions that remove barriers to keeping people with their pets. One such solution is cohousing.

Myth busted

2021—A Canada-based study found that animals owned by those experiencing homelessness and housing vulnerability are generally in good health, and the characteristics and common clinical conditions seen in these pets are similar to those seen in traditionally housed pets.

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