Everyone is feeling the pinch (more like a sucker punch!) from the current cost of living crisis affecting every area of society. With everything soaring in price from Food to Fuel, there is one community that is often forgotten about especially in financially tough times… the homeless.
As of 2021, statistics suggest there are at least a quarter of a million homeless people in England alone. This is due to a perfect storm of the housing crisis in the UK, the availability of social and council housing and the need to build more new homes whilst omitting housing for those in need.
Unfortunately, this number is only set to get worse, with estimates suggesting that 25% of homeless people own a pet and often face further discrimination when trying to access accommodation. Having to ultimately choose between receiving support and staying with their pet or not.
Have you ever stopped to think about who looks after those pets on the street?
Well, one woman that did just that is the wonderful Michelle Southern. In 2016 whilst volunteering in a soup kitchen Michelle saw a homeless man and his dog and was unable to shake that thought, which led her to establish the charity Street Paws.
Street Paws works in a variety of different ways to care for and support the homeless with dogs. Firstly, by taking the calls of those with concerns about the welfare of animals on the streets and following up with call-outs. Street Paws also have regular veterinary outreach programmes across the North East, North West, Yorkshire, Wales, and Northern Ireland with over 200 veterinary volunteers.
They provide free health checks, including:
- Flea and worming treatments
- Pain relief
- Eye and ear medications and microchipping.
Along with these veterinary services, they supply owners with items such as dog toys, leads, dog food and dog collars when they can. Most importantly the outreach acts as a social experience for pet owners for them to meet other people in similar circumstances and discuss the issues they are facing free of judgement.
But the big question... why have animals on the street, isn’t it cruel? This is something Street Paws founder Michelle is regularly asked, and she has several answers to this question.
Research from Newcastle university finds that the relationship between homeless people and their pets is undeniably strong because they are providers of unconditional, non-judgemental love. Numerous studies note the positive relationship between a homeless person and their pet, noting the pet reduces mental health issues, provides companionship, and reduces loneliness. Hence, there is a need for support services to become more pet friendly so that no homeless person with a pet is limited in the support that they can receive.
Newcastle’s homelessness and Rough Sleeping Strategy, looks to have no one sleeping rough in the city by 2025 by having efficient rehousing strategies, support services and quality accommodation. However, the plan fails to address the issues of homeless people with pets. To tackle this issue Michelle has been working with local authorities such as the Manchester council to provide emergency kennels for those needing NHS care and actively encourage shelters to accept pets. To aid this Street Paws provides kennels to shelters and helps to find solutions for every problem they encounter.