In spring, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) revealed its latest numbers on people living on the streets in the county. Homelessness increased 5.7 percent from the previous year, and the number of folks living in encampments, tents and vehicles exploded by 20 percent. There are now about 46,874 people who call the streets their home in L.A.
“There has been a general increase in pets and service animals,” according to a statement from LAHSA's Emergency Response Team. “We don't track individuals with pets or service animals specifically, but it's safe to say there has been an increase.”
Observers agree that the numbers of dogs, cats and other animal companions has risen in correlation with our homeless crisis. “It has increased,” says Lisa Dulyea, communications manager of Inner City Law Center. “So many residents of Skid Row have animals. They don't know where to turn for help.”
The center, on East Seventh Street in the heart of Skid Row, is coming to the rescue. Approached by Lori Weise, founder of Downtown Dog Rescue, the law office is pairing up with the pet organization to open its doors to homeless people with dogs, cats and other animals from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. every Wednesday.
The pet resource center will offer food, hand out spay and neuter vouchers, and help with licensing, vaccination, microchips, name tags, collars, leashes and even crates, organizers say. Downtown Dog Rescue volunteers do the work while the Inner City Law Center provides the space.
Weise argues that gentrification downtown has pushed Skid Row's homeless population into a smaller area, making the struggle for resources, including for pets, more difficult. The number of pets living with homeless people on the streets is “far greater than I imagined,” she said.
“I'm very careful to not say that because you're homeless your pet means more, but it's a basic need to have a place to call home, and having a pet can calm you down and give you stability,” she said. “You look at that little face and you smile. For many people it's the only reason to go forward another day.”
The program is funded by donations to Downtown Dog Rescue, she said. Dulyea of Inner City Law Center also said the office of Mayor Eric Garcetti has secured more than half a million dollars to help homeless people who have pets.
L.A.'s Department of Animal Services will help out with licensing and a one-day-a-month mobile veterinary clinic, Weise said. That's a godsend, organizers say, because the Row lacks vets and pet stores.
Though most homeless people with pets are just seeking basic food for their dogs and casts, Weise said, she's amazed at how cherished these street pets are.
“They are well loved and well fed and pretty well cared for,” she said, “much more than in some other communities.”