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Street vets helping homeless people brace for rise in pet owners losing homes

Rising homelessness and growing pet ownership sees charities helping homeless people look after their dogs preparing to meet demand in the months ahead

Charities working to support homeless people and their pets have warned they are braced for a rise in demand this autumn amid a potential homelessness crisis and a surging number of pet owners during the pandemic.

“We’ve definitely started to see an increase in demand already over the last few months,” said Zoe Abbotts, the general manager at charity StreetVet, “but I have no doubt that we will see a further increase in demand and we are preparing for it.”

The Big Issue’s Stop Mass Homelessness campaign is working to prevent a rise in homelessness this autumn when pandemic support measures come to an end, including the furlough scheme and the £20 universal credit increase, leaving thousands of people at risk of eviction from their homes.

That could see a rise in the number of people on the street with their pets after animal ownership rose sharply during the pandemic. As many as 3.2 million households got a pet in the first year of the pandemic, according to figures from the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association, meaning the UK now has 17 million pet-owning homes.

We’re very much getting approached now by families that are having to be evicted due to this Covid pandemicDogs on the Streets

An increase in homelessness could see thousands of people and their pets needing help and charities who work with animals and their homeless owners told The Big Issue they are preparing to meet demand on International Dog Day.

“We’re running as normally as normal again,” Abbotts said, but with  “a huge increase in demand for care and support”.

“The demographic of people we are seeing is the next stage up as well,” she added. “So they’re people who are right on the poverty line, who are in housing, that literally have nothing else with all their money going on affording their rent. That means they are visiting food banks and you know, school vouchers for their kids food vouchers.”

Earlier this year The Big Issue reported that one UK household is being made homeless every three-and-a-half hours after eviction protections introduced in the pandemic were phased out as Covid-19 restrictions were lifted.

And that rise is trickling down to the streets according to Michelle Clark, the founder of Dogs on the Street, a charity that helps homeless people with veterinary services.

Where pet ownership proves a barrier to gaining accommodation, the charity is stepping in to look after pets to prevent people from being forced onto the streets.

“We’re very much getting approached now by families that are having to be evicted due to this Covid pandemic,” said Clark.

“In the long run what we’re trying to do is we are a stopgap to prevent street homelessness. So it means if a family goes into temporary accommodation we can look after their dog and that’s true whether they are sleeping rough or homeless in another way. Our aim is to prevent street homeless.”

But the end goal is to prevent pets from becoming barriers to securing accommodation in the first place, she said. StreetVet launched their Accredited Hostel Scheme last year to help homeless hostels and other accommodation providers to train staff and make premises pet-friendly.

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Cat Birt, pets and housing development and engagement officer at Dogs Trust, works alongside Simon Community Scotland to help homeless people stay with their pets in accommodation.

She told The Big Issue people who have become pet owners during the pandemic have sought the same kind of companionship often seen with homeless people and their pets.

But Birt is braced for a rise in the number of people needing her support in the months ahead too.

“It really is a concern,” she said. “Pet ownership has risen during this period but people have got pets for all the right reasons: to combat loneliness and isolation. We know why people get pets and what their dog means to them.

“So we are expecting an increased demand on our services in terms of people who might be facing homelessness.”

Hundreds of thousands of people are at risk of losing their homes right now. One UK household is made homeless every three-and-a-half hours.

You can help stop a potential avalanche of homelessness by joining The Big Issue’s Stop Mass Homelessness campaign. Here’s how:

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
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