A pet is family, no matter where you live – including for families experiencing homelessness. Last week, Bay Area Community Services (BACS) and BirchBark Foundation (BBF) announced a new partnership to provide veterinary care, support services, and supplies to the pets of people on their way from homelessness to housing at the SHARE Center.
The partnership kicked off with at event at the SHARE Center, building a “tree of hope” decorated with words of love and meaning made by people impacted by their pets and all people who have needed hope during challenging times. Peace of Mind Dog Rescue and SPCA Monterey County also joined the event to honor the partnership and the supports they will offer such as kennel and behavior training, volunteers doing veterinary appointment transport, and the joint veterinary care with BBF through Peace of Mind Dog Rescue’s Harry and Jaynne Boand Clinic.
This pilot program honors the human-animal bond, while doing “whatever it takes” to uplift local unhoused families and help them stabilize. This bond is just as critical, if not more so, to people without stable housing. Thanks to this partnership, dogs, cats, and other pets are getting the love and care they need so that they, in turn, can provide support and stability to their human families.
The SHARE Center, located in Salinas, is a signature BACS “housing fast” program. BACS’ Housing Fast Programs fill the gap between homelessness and housing by getting people off the streets and into temporary housing.
“Everybody deserves health and housing,” said Nora Daly, BACS development director, “and in order for BACS to create housing opportunities that last, we take into account the whole person, the whole family structure – including pets. Pets can help make us happier, safer, and less isolated. This program is already bringing joy.”
With a mission of protecting and honoring the human animal bond, BirchBark brings its three programs to the pet families of SHARE, and has customized additional services through collaboration with Peace of Mind Dog Rescue and SPCA Monterey County. On a daily basis, BBF provides financial assistance for life-compromising animal crises, pet loss and grief support counseling, and a robust education program to empower people to be the best caregivers of their furry animal family members.
“We know that the bond with our animals can be one of the most important relationships in our lives. BirchBark is thrilled to provide all three of our programs to SHARE families, and also take it a step further to fund animal wellness exams upon arrival at SHARE to ensure a pet and their family are getting the best start to success possible. No matter the circumstances in someone’s life, animals are family and need to be protected as such. We want to help empower the pet families of SHARE on their journey to permanent housing,” stated Michelle Frampton, BBF executive director.
Would you give up your beloved pet if you lost your housing, especially if you thought you would be able to get new housing soon? As of the most recent Monterey County Point in Time Count, in 2019, 23% of community members without housing qualified as “chronically homeless” – meaning that for 77%, they are “between homes” and the situation is more temporary. Pets provide companionship, mental health benefits, and can be a safety measure for people who are living on the streets.
Between five and ten percent of unhoused community members have pets, and too often, families including pets are discriminated against, judged, and excluded because of their animal companions. The SHARE Center is extremely low barrier, meaning clients can come with their pets, partners, or families, and mental health challenges / low income / other complex needs are not a barrier to coming indoors. Once a person moves in to the SHARE Center, we hold a determined focus on getting people housed, while breaking down the other barriers that hold people back by providing mental health support, employment / benefits support, and more. Our Housing Navigators work with clients on an individualized basis to help clients end their own cycle of being unhoused and help them find permanent, sustainable housing. Our team will then work with them for 6 months afterwards to ensure they remain stably housed.
The SHARE Center is a beautiful and spacious location, including a reception, waiting room, staff spaces, health clinic, counseling offices, library, a commercial kitchen, a multipurpose room, pet kennels, outdoor dining area, children’s play areas, and bedrooms, and private family spaces, with space for 125 people. There are currently 13 pets on-site.
 Defined as an individual with one or more disabling conditions or a family with a head of household with a disabling condition who: » Has been continuously homeless for 1 year or more and/or; » Has experienced 4 or more episodes of homelessness within the past 3 years.