I've never been homeless. The closest I ever came to it was when I got lost at Rehoboth Beach, Del. with my little sister. My 10-year-old brain conjured up what my future would look like as a dirty street urchin with a baby girl in tow—begging for change, stealing scraps from trash bins and sleeping in the hollow of a topiary at the nearest park. I was crying hysterically within minutes and it turned out my family was waiting for me about 100 feet away. Honestly, I can't even imagine the difficulty of getting by every day with kids and pets depending on me and no safe place to call home. In fact, the number of homeless students in the US has now reached more than one million. Fortunately, the folks at Family Promise of Albuquerque (808 Edith Blvd NE, 505-268-0331) have recognized the great need of homeless families and created a program for keeping them together and helping the adults attain housing and a job, with the added bonus of giving Fido a place to stay.
Family Promise is a national organization that has been active in the Duke City for 13 years. They partner with the local faith community to pull off their mission but are not religious and allow no proselytizing. Congregations of varying faiths agree to host four families four times per year for one week. Families who are living on the streets or in their cars are given a safe and clean place to stay, food and support. Kids are dropped off at school by volunteers and adults are taken to the day center where they receive help finding work and housing. The day center helps with everything from literacy to job skills. The point is to help the adults get employment and be self-sufficient.
Though there are certain requirements to get in the program such as having minor children, being able and willing to work and submitting to a background check (no violent offenses) and a drug test, they do have a major upside: They will also take in the animal portion of the family. According to Executive Director Julie Skelton at Family Promise, “They've already lost everything. They shouldn't have to give up their pet.” One of the higher-ups at PetSmart was homeless as a child and reached out to Family Promise to create a partnership where PetSmart would build temporary pet shelters at congregations or give the animals a place to stay at their stores. While there, animals receive veterinary care, shots and food. The only condition is that the family visit their furry friend at least once a week.
Unfortunately, there is a very long waiting list—on the coldest day of 2015, there were 65 families on the list—and though the organization is planning on doubling the number of families they can assist by October 2016, not everyone can fulfill the entry requirements. Many of the homeless population are dealing with drug problems, disabilities, mental illness and a wide variety of other obstacles to being capable of finding stable housing and work. Plus not everyone has kids. Luckily, for the homeless humans in these categories and the animals in their care, there is still help to be found.
On the first Wednesday of every month from 10-11:30am, The Rock at Noon Day (2400 Second Street NW) provides free shots and veterinary check-ups. Once pet owners are satisfied that their pooch is healthy, they can pick up food and supplies at St. Martin's Hospitality Center (1201 Third Street NW). They can also make their way to The Storehouse (106 Broadway SE) on the third Friday of every month to pick up free dog and cat food as well as grabbing a few supplies for themselves. Struggling pet-owners can also check in with Animal Humane's Pet Food Bank (615 Virginia SE) to see if they're eligible to receive a small portion of the 3,000 pounds of pet kibble donated weekly.
For all of those who are fortunate enough to have a warm bed, food on the table and a roof over your head, please note that all of the above are at least partially, if not entirely, funded and supported by donations and volunteers. Animals can be a huge source of comfort and companionship for the homeless. It is an incredibly simple act to grab an extra bag of kibble the next time you're at the grocery store and to drop it of at a food bank on the way home. It only makes sense that these fuzzy friends receive the same compassion and help that is given to their human counterparts.