Homelessness is a growing problem in the UK and something that affects thousands of people, and their dogs.
My name is Charlie and I work within in the Vet Team at Dogs Trust alongside the Hope Project supporting people experiencing or at risk of homelessness and their dogs by providing funding towards the costs of veterinary care.
Me at my desk in the Dogs Trust head office in London
Since starting to work alongside the Hope Project at Dogs Trust, I have been exposed to the realities of homelessness and have heard countless stories from those who find themselves in the toughest situation. What these experiences have taught me is that homelessness is a something that can happen to anyone, overnight and without warning. The reductive stereotype of homelessness appearing as a lone man and his dog sleeping rough underestimates the breath and diversity of the homelessness crisis in the UK.
Whilst there is no accurate national figure for how many people are experiencing homelessness across the UK, and according to a 2023 report from the homelessness charity Crisis, there is estimated to be a 32% increase with 300,000 households affected. We do know that homelessness disproportionately affects people who are otherwise disadvantaged by society due to factors such as, but not limited to, race, gender, sexuality and disability: Shelter revealed that Black people are more than three times as likely to experience homelessness in the UK compared to white people; Crisis research shows that almost one in five LGBT+ people have experienced homelessness, increasing to one in four for transgender people.
Rough sleeping gives an estimated snapshot of homeless in the UK, but many people experiencing homelessness do not show up in official statistics at all. Other less commonly thought of examples of homelessness include living in temporary accommodation such as night shelters, hostels, B&Bs, women’s refuges, couch surfing or sleeping in cars, tents and garden sheds. Sadly, councils don’t have a duty to account for dog care, so many dog owners risk losing support if they decline temporary housing support which does not also accept their canine friend as residents.
The human-animal bond is something incredibly special and is no better illustrated than by the relationships we as people can build with our dogs. For people experiencing homelessness, this bond is more important than ever, and, for some people, their pet is their reason for getting up and going every day under such challenging circumstances. The bonds I have heard about between our Hope Project clients and their dogs have been nothing short of extraordinary and the trust built from spending 24/7 together is life changing for both dog and owner.
One of our clients on the Hope Project shared their experience of facing homelessness with her dog. Below are a few quotes from Zoe talking about her dog Rudy* (*not their real names):
"I have been staying on friends’ sofas for about 6-7 months now. I lost my home because I had to flee an abusive relationship. My ex-partner was very abusive to me and then he became abusive to my dog Rudy as well. I just had to leave.”
“Unfortunately, having a dog makes it so much more difficult for me to find any housing. There is such a stigma around dogs, people thing they are dirty and always cause damage to furniture. Even the emergency accommodation I was initially offered refused to accept Rudy. I don’t think they understood how much we had been through together and they suggested kennelling for him, I just couldn’t do it.”
“Rudy is everything to me – he’s the reason I get up in the morning. He gives me a purpose – I take him to the beach, he runs around. And simply watching him being free and happy is the reason I don’t give up. He reminds me that it’s not worth giving up on everything.”
One of our Hope Project clients and her dog
With the Cost Of Living crisis ongoing, according to Crisis more people than ever are experiencing or are at risk of homelessness in the UK. The Hope Project are supporting more owners than ever before: so far in 2023, they have supported 600 dogs, which is almost double the number of dogs supported in the same period in 2022, and funded over 1,100 vet treatments at UK vet practices.
Low-income households are being impacted more than any other and increasing living costs are pushing households towards the terrifying prospect of homelessness for the first time. This World Homeless Day, please consider ways you may be able to help, perhaps by donating, volunteering or writing to your local MP; the official World Homeless Day website has a great list of others ideas too.
If you see someone experiencing homelessness, you can ask them if they would be happy for you to refer them to StreetLink who will connect them with a local outreach team. If someone is in immediate danger, call 999.
And finally, try not to ignore people experiencing homelessness: it is a very isolating experience and people feel invisible. You may be happy to stop and have a chat with the person and share a treat or two with their pooch (before you do this, it's important to check that the owner is happy for you to approach their dog). A simple smile and a ''hello'' can mean a lot to someone who is often ignored by passers-by.