Helping Homeless Families and their Pets

The word “families” doesn’t always represent the traditional family stereotype. Families can include children, no children, children who live with grandparents, and many other living situations. There are also families who do not include children, but have pets who are seen by those families as their dependents or children.

There are many different challenges that our homeless neighbors experience as they connect to services, employment and housing in the Indianapolis community.  Indianapolis has many homeless families that are not in stable  housing. Many of these families include pets. Parenting is stressful enough without the challenges of finding shelter for your family and pets each night.

These pets are often the most consistent avenue for praise, unconditional love and acceptance that homeless families may have.  It does not matter what else is happening in their lives, they can always depend on the love of their pets to provide the emotional support they need.  In the past I have thought, “Why would someone not give up their pet to get into housing?”  As I understand more about homelessness I come to the understanding that that would be like me “giving up my children” so that I could have access to housing options.  No one would require a parent(s) to give their children away to access housing (although this “choice” is sometimes presented to those getting into emergency shelter). So why would we expect someone who receives and gives unconditional love to their pet to do the same?  It may seem like an easy choice to board or give up your pets to get housing stability, but it truly is not.

In my experience, it doesn’t even get to a point of discussion but ends with many of our neighbors saying definitively, “No, that will not work and I choose to stay where I am at with my pet instead.”  That can be hard to understand, but when you do not have the benefits of family and friends to provide a network of support, those pets or family members become extremely important in your daily life. They also provide a therapeutic function as well as providing the love that you seek and find challenging to acquire elsewhere.

If you are interesting in helping our homeless neighbors with pets, please consider donating cat food or dog food. For more information, please contact (Street Outreach Animal Response Initiative) or the Indianapolis Continuum of Care

For more information about HealthNet’s Homeless Initiative Program, visit

Post by Matt Holland

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