By Jennifer Paradis
I have recently befriended someone experiencing homelessness who is desperate for supplemental income for their disability benefits. We’ll call him “George.”
George stood in front of me because he was always accompanied by a red-nosed pit bull named Logan. Their relationship is clear. Logan watches his master approach me intently and wags his tail excitedly when his master returns to him. George greets Logan as we all greet our pets with equal love and enthusiasm.
During our last conversation, I asked George if Logan was a certified emotional support animal or a licensed service animal.
“No, but it should be,” said George. “I can’t live without him and he also helps me because I am blind in my left eye.”
I then shared the resources Beth-El Center offers to ensure every pet can become an emotional support animal. This is an important distinction for people experiencing homelessness who would otherwise face surrendering or abandoning their beloved pets — or more often, pet owners entering shelters. are not and “choose” to stay out to avoid losing their pets.
There are many obstacles for people facing homelessness with their animals. Many shelters around the state do not allow emotional support animals or pets in emergency homeless programs, although the Fair Housing Amendment Act of 1988, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act allow people with disabilities to keep emotional support animals. Protect the right. .
With a service or emotional support animal there is little communication to help owners navigate the homeless system. We can and must do better. The motivations for a homeless response system can and must go beyond the legal obligations of our sector.
Homeless service providers should view homeless individuals and their pets as a family unit. We would and should be appalled at the thought of separating a mother or father from their children, because we understand the trauma it would cause to all members of the family. Such separation will work against the goals of self-sufficiency and healing. Why do we accept this as an authority for animal people?
Today, one in two Americans suffers from loneliness. U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said in May, “Our loneliness and isolation epidemic is an underappreciated public health crisis that has harmed individual and community health. Given the significant health consequences of loneliness and isolation, We must prioritize building social connections in the same way we have prioritized other major public health issues such as tobacco, obesity and substance use disorders.”
The Surgeon General’s Advisory on Loneliness and Our Epidemic reports that the physical health consequences of poor or inadequate relationships include a 29 percent increased risk of heart disease, a 32 percent increased risk of stroke, and a 50 percent increased risk of dementia for the elderly. Is. For adults overall, lack of social contact increases the risk of premature death by more than 60 percent.
In addition to facing an increased risk of premature death simply because one is homeless, individuals experiencing homelessness experience both financial poverty as well as relational poverty. Relational poverty, as described by Kevin F. Adler and Donald W. Burns in their book “When We Walk By: Forgotten Humanity, Broken Systems, And The Role We Can Each Play in Ending Homelessness in America,” fosters There is a severe shortage of Relationships combine with stigma (and often shame) that make developing social relationships incredibly difficult.
Relative poverty is thus considered, as a consequence of idolatry, to be a fatal form of poverty.
Watching George bond with Logan and dozens of other owners and pets through the Beth-El Center makes it clear that these relationships are real and should be supported. We must expand access to support the bond between owners and pets within the homelessness response system and in permanent housing solutions aimed at helping vulnerable populations.
This includes universal access to emergency food and shelter programs, funding to ensure owners and pets stay healthy, and access to critical health care such as vaccines. This includes meeting homeless people and their pets with compassion and gratitude, as they overcome trauma and adversity to express family connection and unconditional love. It’s a desire we can all relate to.
Jennifer Paradis is the executive director of the Bethel Center in Milford.