Darrell Berkheimer: Bill would provide care for pets of homeless citizens | TheUnion.com

Darrell Berkheimer: Bill would provide care for pets of homeless citizens

A surprise bill introduced into the California Senate is expected to have considerable impact in helping local agencies serve our homeless citizens – particularly those who have pets.

“This is awesome,” Hospitality House Executive Director Nancy Baglietto said after I emailed her a story about the bill.

If passed by the state legislature, the bill will provide $5 million for food and care to the pets of California’s homeless citizens – and perhaps more later if needed.

The bill – SB 258 – was introduced by Sen. Robert Hertzberg, who represents the 18th Senate district, encompassing parts of the San Fernando Valley.

I saw an internet article on the bill written by Katy Steinmetz for Time magazine. Her story notes it is one of dozens of bills related to California’s homelessness crisis. But we can expect it to produce much quicker results than various other proposals.

Steinmetz quotes Hertzberg in explaining how he began hearing about the problem numerous times from constituents attending neighborhood council meetings – how homeless people “wouldn’t go into shelters because they want to take care of their pets.” He told Steinmetz he began thinking, “Well, here’s an easy way to get a lot of people off the streets.”

As soon as I saw that story, I realized that here’s a senator thinking in the right direction on how to provide help toward resolving a major statewide problem. And Baglietto immediately agreed with me.

Baglietto said she already is involved with a Nevada County team that’s in the process of drafting what she termed as a “trail-blazing” program to assist homeless people with pets.

She added that details of that plan will be discussed when the partnership group reconvenes in a couple weeks. And she invited me to attend that meeting so I could report some of those details afterward. I plan to do that.

In citing the significance of Hertzberg’s bill, Steinmetz’s article reports the numbers of homeless people with pets are estimated to range as high as 20 percent. But many shelters simply aren’t equipped to accommodate their pets. Some don’t allow pets, while others have various restrictions such as requiring pet documents.

As a result, many homeless pet owners not only lose access to the shelter but to other help that they might receive.

Steinmetz quotes Jennifer Fearing, “an animal lobbyist who worked with Hertzberg’s office on the bill.” Fearing observed that for some homeless people, their pets “may be their only family, their only friend.”

“This is a relationship we want to support. We believe in the human-animal bond,” Fearing added.

Steinmetz also cited a Los Angeles homeless youth study that revealed those with animals show fewer symptoms of depression and loneliness, despite facing more difficulty getting into a shelter. And nearly a quarter of those participating had pets.

Hertzberg reported he doesn’t have any specific goal or idea on how much impact his bill will have on California’s homeless — now estimated at nearly 130,000 on any given day. But he indicated the small step offered by his bill should provide quicker results than other, more comprehensive programs that might take months or years to produce significant effects.

“I’m just trying to find something that has an immediate impact,” he said. “And if it starts working, I’m going to ask for more” funds, he told Steinmetz.

The Time article reported some shelters already are embracing a pet-friendly approach to helping homeless citizens. Steinmetz wrote:

“In Sacramento, Front Street Animal Shelter – part of the city’s animal control services – opened a pet-friendly facility in December 2017, hoping to bring more people inside a local triage center during winter by offering to shelter their pets as well.”

Pets were creating a barrier, communications manager Bobby Mann told Steinmetz. He reported the policy attracted people who otherwise would not have used the shelter, and it presented an opportunity to provide basic veterinary care for the animals – with a nonprofit organization providing free spay and neuter services.

“Some people wouldn’t accept medical care for themselves but would for their animals,” he said.

Mann surmised that some folks might question whether homeless people should be struggling to feed animals as well as themselves, but he noted that some who showed at the triage center were living with their pets before they lost their housing. “Many people are just two or three paychecks away from being homeless,” he added.

I imagine everyone knows that pets usually give unconditional love – a love that is all important to someone facing the possibility of becoming homeless. And there are so many of us today who are not equipped financially to deal with a lengthy or expensive illness.

Baglietto reported the immediate action to be taken here in Nevada County is to form a coalition of support for Hertzberg’s bill. She said some members of the local team hope to meet with Hertzberg to discuss how best to implement a joint homeless and animal welfare program.

When I read about Hertzberg’s bill, I thought the $5 million is a rather small expenditure that will produce significant benefits many times worth that amount. And in this area, the pets service is expected to help bring some of our homeless citizens in out of the woods, where they present a fire danger.

It’s an exciting development.

Darrell Berkheimer, who lives in Grass Valley, is a frequent contributor to The Union. He is the author of six books available through Amazon. His latest, Essays from The Golden Throne, also is available at Book Seller in Grass Valley. Contact him at mtmrnut@yahoo.com.

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