August 28, 2019Blog

Resources for Families at Risk of Homelessness

By Devin Morrissey

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Our pets are part of our family, providing infinite companionship, protection, and love. The idea of being separated from our pets, therefore, can be terrifying. Unfortunately in today’s America, housing instability is on the rise, and losing one’s home can mean losing one’s pets as well.

It’s rare to find a homeless shelter or transitional housing facility that allows companion animals, leading many to sleep on the streets rather than letting go of a beloved pet. On any given night, more than half a million Americans are homeless, and the reasons behind homelessness can vary widely. In some cases, the rising cost of living in metropolitan areas becomes too much to handle. Others are displaced due to domestic violence, the loss of a job or other source of income, or another reason altogether.

To avoid the possibility of homelessness, being proactive may be key for families with pets. It can be difficult to make ends meet, but those on the brink of homelessness have plenty of available options and resources, no matter where you live. Downsizing, lowering energy costs and other monthly bills, and finding veterinary care at a reduced cost may help those with pets stay within their budget.

The Rising Cost of Living in the U.S.

It’s a tough time for many Americans: CBS News reports that the U.S. cost of living in 2018 was the highest in a decade. Those who are unemployed or underemployed, living off social security, or working a job that pays minimum wage are often unable to keep up. Cost of living includes everything from housing, clothing, and food, to transportation and energy costs. When you’re living on a fixed income, it often becomes necessary to make difficult trade offs between necessities such as food, medicine, and other basic necessities. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

To reduce food costs, you can utilize local area food pantries or apply for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. SNAP eligibility is based on your income and family size. If approved, your benefits are loaded onto a plastic card that’s used like a debit card to purchase food items. SNAP isn’t intended to cover all your monthly food costs; rather, the program is designed to supplement your food budget.

Another way to save money during tough times is by taking steps to reduce your monthly energy bills. During the summer months, you can reduce your utility bill by turning down the A/C. Keeping the temperature at 78 degrees can lower your bill by about 15%. Conversely, setting your furnace to 68 degrees in the winter will also help keep heating costs manageable.

Alternative Housing Options

More than ever, Americans are seeking out various types of alternative housing in order to make ends meet. Some individuals with limited incomes are choosing to sleep and live in their vehicles, although that can compromise your safety, as well as that of your pet. Shared housing and cooperative, dorm-style living have also become more popular in recent years.

One possible option for low-income families and individuals is to embrace the tiny house movement. Minimalist living, with fewer possessions and a smaller space to heat and cool, is the main idea behind the movement. Tiny homes are typically 400-500 square feet and often cost much less than traditional houses or apartments. In comparison, the average home size in the U.S. in 2009 was 2,700 square feet.

Recently, tiny home villages in Seattle have been created to help the city’s homeless population. This has raised questions about the viability of tiny homes as a form of alternative housing. However, it’s vital to do research to see if this housing option is viable for you, as there are many drawbacks to consider.

While you may be able to use a trailer park for your prospective tiny home, there are many urban zoning rules that can make it difficult (if not impossible) to build a tiny home within city limits. Further, getting a loan for a tiny house can be difficult, so you may need to be ready to pay in cash.

It’s important to note that tiny homes are best suited for individuals, couples, and smaller families due to their compact size. And since the indoor space in a tiny home is negligible, dog owners may need may need to exercise their pet more often. Tiny home communities sometimes offer a large amount of outdoor space where your pooch can play, however, and where you can socialize with your neighbors.

Keeping Your Pets Healthy and Happy

When you’re living on a limited budget, an unexpected expense can mean the difference between stable housing and homelessness. So what happens if your pet is injured or becomes seriously ill? For starters, always make sure your pet is up-to-date on shots, and provide him or her with healthy, high-quality food and plenty of fresh water. In addition, spaying or neutering your pet may help them lead a longer, healthier life. Plus, you won’t have to deal with the financial burden and stress that typically accompanies a litter of puppies or kittens.

If the unexpected happens and your pet requires medical care, you have a variety of options. Some veterinary clinics offer payment plans, but these may need to be set up in advance. You can also seek out nonprofits or charitable organizations that offer financial assistance to pet owners. Your local humane society or animal shelter may be able to refer you to these types of resources. Or, if you live close to a college or university with a veterinary college, inquire if that institution offers low-income veterinary services.

One of the best things about having pets is that they don’t care if you have a limited income, as long as you love and take care of them to the best of your ability. Further, your pets don’t care if you have a roof over your head, live in your vehicle, or sleep on the streets, as long as you stay together. Stable housing may be the most healthy option for both you and your pets, however, so it’s in your best interest to try and keep your budget manageable, even during hard times.