Public raises £26,000 to fund film about rough sleepers and their dogs

Filming will begin on September 1 after the public enthusiastically got behind the campaign

A Kickstarter set up to crowdfund for a documentary following the lives of rough sleepers and their canine companions has smashed its target – and recording will start next month.

In the space of 30 days, 559 people backed the campaign launched by critically acclaimed director Paul Sng, surpassing the project’s £25,000 goal.

Dogs on the Streets will give audiences insight into the experiences of homeless dog owners and the people who work with them to ensure both their welfare and their pets’.

Radio presenter Simone Marie will meet the rough sleepers and their dogs in London, Birmingham, Kent and Oxford who receive vet care, food and help getting into housing from volunteers for charity DOTS (Dogs on the Streets).

“I’m interested in stories about people who challenge the status quo,” director Sng told The Big Issue, “and working with people to amplify the voices of people who aren’t usually seen or heard in arts and media.”

Sng heard of DOTS when founder Michelle Clark was interviewed by Marie on Soho Radio. Before long, the three were on the phone discussing documentary ideas that would shift the perception around homeless dog owners.

“There’s a lot of stigma around homeless people who are on the streets with their dogs,” he said. “In the vast majority of cases, the person was made homeless with the dog and may have been unable to find accommodation that accepts animals.

“Faced with the choice of losing the dog or sleeping on the streets, they choose to stay with their best friend. I’m a dog owner and I’d do the same if I was in that position.”

The team behind the documentary want it to challenge the public’s perception of rough sleepers and show that homelessness is “created by economic forces” rather than being the fault of individuals.

Each week there’s a new story about homelessness in the news. They rarely look at solutions

Sng is no stranger to filmmaking with a conscience, with his past work including Dispossession: The Great Social Housing Swindle, and Sleaford Mods – Invisible Britain putting the voices of marginalised people front and centre.

“The public response has been fantastic,” he said. “We’re all pleased that the film has resonated with people and there’s been such brilliant support for the Kickstarter. I think that’s due to the great work DOTS is doing week in, week out across the country.

“Funding documentaries is incredibly challenging. There are bits and pieces of funding available, but it’s very competitive and I didn’t want to wait for permission from a funder to make this film.”

The team still needs to raise extra cash to pay for editing and post-production costs but thanks to backers of their crowdfunder, they can begin shooting starting September 1.

Sng continued: “Each week there’s a new story about homelessness in the news, usually with damning statistics and political soundbites. But they rarely look at meaningful solutions to the root cause of homelessness: structural inequality in our society.

“Michelle and the DOTS team provide vital support for homeless people and the dogs who bring comfort and security to their owners. I hope the film will help to make more people aware of their vital work.”

Those who pledged money to the crowdfunder will receive a range of rewards, from a download of the film and the original score to thank you credits and a 2020 calendar featuring the dogs that will star in the film.

DOTS founder Clark said that when things got difficult for now-homeless people and they were forced to take to the streets, “their dog was often all they had left in the world”.

She continued: “Often it’s because they have a dog that they’re sleeping rough – while homeless people can sleep in shelters, almost all accommodation options won’t take in people who have a dog. If you see someone on the streets with a dog, they may have chosen to stay with their pet over getting a roof over their heads.”

Filming will begin next month when Clark and some DOTS volunteers take part in a 10K run in Hyde Park to raise money for the charity. After that, there will be a short break from filming to allow Sng time to get to know some of the people who will be in the film and “earn their trust before we turn the cameras on”.

Image: Kiran Acharya