Charitable dog initiative to help rough sleepers and their pets off the streets

A new initiative has been launched to break down the barriers of street homelessness by enabling rough sleepers to bring their pets into supported accommodation with them.

Animal charities Street Paws and Dogs On The Streets have teamed up with national housing association Riverside to provide support through their Dog Champions scheme, so that people sleeping rough can stay with their trusted companion when moving into supported accommodation.

Riverside has supported housing services for varying needs across the country, and this latest initiative leads the way to help people experiencing homelessness move off the street without leaving their furry friend behind – which can be the case at many housing services.

Street Paws and Dogs On The Streets recognised the need to change tactics to support rough sleepers and their pets, as both charities saw an increase during the Covid-19 pandemic. Subsequently, they approached Riverside to collaborate and support via the Dog Champions scheme after Street Paws ran a successful pilot scheme across Greater Manchester last winter.

The innovative scheme provides free training to Riverside staff in supported services, involving behaviour and canine first aid training. Participants will also understand what happens when owners don’t take care of their dog appropriately.

Claudia Ludovice is one of the first at Riverside to become a Dog Champion.

“The Dog Champion training was a really fun experience. It enabled me to learn how to best support residents and for them to care for their pets while living at the scheme, as well as ensuring they feel welcome and safe in our service,” says Claudia, Riverside’s service manager at the LGBTQ+ scheme in Manchester which is part of A Bed Every Night initiative to provide short-term accommodation for rough sleepers in the region.

She added: “The initiative has also been invaluable to residents as Street Paws has provided excellent health care for the dogs living on site whose owners would otherwise struggle to afford to pay for the high vet bills while experiencing homelessness.”

Riverside acknowledges the benefits of having a pet-friendly policy in its supported services as animals can have a positive impact on people’s health and wellbeing, in addition to preventing social isolation and loneliness. The policy can also assist outreach teams to engage more easily with rough sleepers who have pets which they might not otherwise do so, as many supported services don’t allow animals.

Benefiting from the initiative at the LGBTQ+ service is Jeff and his dog Laya, who has captured everyone’s hearts at the scheme.

Jeff, 21, added: “I’m so pleased that I can have Laya stay with me as she gives me a reason to get out of bed every day. She gets me out of the flat and take her for walks to the park – we bring each other a lot of joy.

Before I had Laya I suffered from stress and I didn’t have much to look forward to. If I was having a bad day I found it difficult to be motivated or do anything. But with Laya I’ve found I’m less stressed because I am responsible for her and need to make sure that I care for her well.”

Both charities, Street Paws and Dogs On The Streets, provide free veterinary care and support services to dogs whose owners are rough sleeping.

Street Paws operates across the North of England and Dogs On The Streets covers the South. They both share the same ethos ‘because we believe that no one should have to choose between a safe place to sleep and their dog’ – as they saw that owning a pet can be a barrier to accessing supporting accommodation, and the Dog Champions scheme aims to overcome that by reaching marginalised homeless pet owners.

Consequently, they have focused their efforts on the Dog Champions initiative so that people experiencing homelessness can keep their canines with them when they move into accommodation.

Michelle Southern, Street Paws Founding Director, said: “This partnership of the two charities working together to bring a real impact and change is so refreshing, we are very proud of The Dog Champion Scheme.

“The pilot in Manchester was a resounding success and we are delighted to now support Riverside to welcome pets nationally. Our aim is that everyone facing homelessness with a pet will be able to secure accommodation together with their dog, their best friend.”

Dogs On The Streets has a four acre foster sanctuary for dogs to stay while their owner who has been sleeping rough receives medical treatment in hospital or mental health and rehabilitation support, so they know their dog is safe and will be returned to them.

Michelle Clark from Dogs On The Streets added: “We are pleased to be partnering with Street Paws and launching the Dog Champion scheme which will bring radical change and secureness for people and their pets experiencing homelessness. We are thrilled to be working with Riverside as our first partner to launch this new initiative.”