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Housing and Homelessness

A New State Bill May Help Unhoused People With ‘Furry Friends’

A smiling man wearing a gray t-shirt and blue jeans is holding two dogs while kneeling on the sidewalk in the middle of an encampment for unhoused people.
Otis Gossett was lucky to find a shelter that accepted his dogs. In Nov. 2021, he was in the process of finding a permanent supportive apartment.
(Ethan Ward
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Getting people experiencing homelessness to take offers of shelter can be complicated when they are also caring for a pet. Many shelters don’t allow animals because they lack resources to care for them and unhoused residents aren’t willing to part ways.

SB 513, a bill authored by California State Senator Bob Hertzberg (D - Van Nuys), would create a permanent grant program for shelters providing a place to sleep, food and basic veterinary services for pets of unhoused residents. The State Senate unanimously approved the bill and it’s headed to the Assembly.

“We spend billions of dollars trying to figure out how to deal with homelessness and coming up with ways to get folks off the streets,” said Hertzberg in a phone interview. “Between 10 to 25% of people on the streets have pets, and they're not going to a shelter unless they can take their pet. So it’s common sense. Let’s provide for their animals instead of spending millions of dollars having people stay on the street.”

The bill would set aside permanent funding after the initial success of the Pet Assistance and Support Program (PAS), a 2019 program that set aside $5 million. The PAS was only able to support 28 of the 49 shelters that applied. In 2021, the program had a $10 million budget. Hertzberg called it a “raging success.”

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According to the national nonprofit Feeding Pets of the Homeless, an estimated 15 to 25% of Americans experiencing homelessness have a pet, an increase from the 5 to 10% two years ago. They found an estimated 73% of calls they get come from California.

Funds are managed by the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) and there are significant requirements built in for grant recipients, according to Daniel Villaseñor, communications director for Hertzberg. Shelters must report twice a year to the HCD about their operating budget, performance measures, and submit an independent audit. Grant recipients also have to, in part, provide crates or kenneling near bunks, provide food for the person experiencing homelessness and their pet and offer vet services.

Tyler Renner, spokesperson for People Assisting The Homeless (PATH), said two of their interim housing sites received funding through PAS and the money had the biggest impact at their 425-bed Orange County site where they house a lot of pets.

“Like any pet owner, people experiencing homelessness treasure their pets and are more likely to accept housing that accommodates them,” said PATH CEO Jennifer Hark in a statement. “Many of PATH’s sites are also home to animal companions and we applaud Senator Hertzberg’s vision to provide them the support that’s needed.”

Hertzberg said he fought for permanent funding after spending time speaking with unhoused residents. The bill also has the support of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors.

“It’s one of the most righteous things to do, one of the most humane things to do and one of the most cost-effective things to do,” said Hertzberg.

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