Homelessness: when mans best friend is all you have

By Charlie Wainwright – a repost of my article featured on the Yorkshire Voice.

Charities in West Yorkshire are being forced to turn away homeless people because they are refusing to give up their dogs.

David Hill and Gnasher have lived together constantly on the streets for nearly a decade.

Many rough sleepers own a pet but organisations which offer shelter cannot take in their animals – some citing hygiene reasons or space issues.

David Hill, 40, has been homeless for the past decade after being made redundant and is the proud owner of two large mongrels, Gnasher and Lucy.

Gnasher is a large eight year old mongrel and David’s best friend.

He was present at Gnasher’s birth eight years ago and hasn’t looked back since, even after being turned away from countless shelters in Leeds.

Only once has David been able to stay in a shelter over night, but he was asked to leave the day after when his dog Lucy came into season as it was unsanitary.

“It was either me or the dogs, they’re my only friends. What else could I do?”

Outreach Support Worker Matt Wigley, 29 for Simon on the Streets, who have a base in Leeds, said that: “We would support an individual with a dog in the same way in terms of emotional support and providing food. However, it would make accessing some of those support services an impossibility particularly where accommodation is concerned.

The two charities regularly campaign in Leeds to raise awareness, including recently at Leeds Trinity University.

“From speaking to several people who have dogs and are homeless the importance of pets (I’ve seen someone with a ferret!) can be invaluable in terms of giving someone the responsibility and unconditional love which I believe to be key components in an individual’s recovery.

“Having said that it’s not all rosey like a Street Cat Named Bob! The other side of the argument I suppose is that it could be considered cruel to keep dogs on the streets when they have no capacity to choose.”

The main hostel in Leeds, St Georges Crypt, do not facilitate the accommodation of dogs and is the only place that offers a roof over someone’s head in an emergency.

A lot of council properties will not accept dogs which dramatically reduces options for those with dogs, however, Matt Wigley said:

“I believe during Emergency Cold Weather Provision this rule is slackened.”

Communications manager, Lewis Garland for Local Giving have connection in Leeds and work in association with other Leeds organisations.

“Across the UK there are hundreds of grassroots groups  and charities working to support homeless people in their area and to tackle associated issues such as mental health and substance use. These groups have an acute awareness of the problems in their area, as well as having long-term trusting relationships with their beneficiaries. These groups understand better than anyone else what is needed for the well-being of the people they work with – as well as any dependent animals they may have.”

Local Giving advise: “for anyone looking to support homeless people in Yorkshire therefore would be to make contact with these local charities such as St. George’s Crypt, and to find out what support that they need – be it volunteers,donations or  awareness raising.”

St. George’s Crypt, Leeds, say there are four main things you can offer during this situation:

  1.  Assistance in finding suitable accommodation that allows pets.
  2.  Assistance finding appropriate long-term kennelling if such accommodation cannot be found
  3. Developing community capacity to provide and give out dog food. (similar to food banks but for dogs!)
  4. Developing relationships with vets to provide free healthcare.

Andrew Omond, project manager, working at the Crypt advises that these four things are good steps in the right direction for street dogs and their owners.

However, different organisations working alongside the homeless offer different advise on how to help those who find themselves homeless.

  • Flow Aid recommend offering sanitary products for homeless women.
  • iChange21, Stephanie Chivers, recommends offering: dog food, token for a vet, a cheap phone, socks and a sleeping bag.
  • Hannah Bates, 20, works in association with the Salvation Army who advise the public to donate to charities so they can be passed on to the correct people. Items such as bedding, clothes, socks and foods that don’t require the use of kitchen appliances.

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