Homelessness is pervasive throughout the U.S. From New York City to Los Angeles, the homeless population continues to grow, and the problem affects more than just humans. That’s because many homeless people live and travel with a faithful four-legged companion, usually a dog or cat.
Two organizations, Positive Tails based in Brooklyn, NY, and Angel Hanz for the Homeless in Los Angeles, are on a mission to help the homeless and their pets. We talked to these inspiring folks to find out more about what they do and why it’s so important.
Founded in 2013, Positive Tails, located in New York, works together with the Veterinary Emergency and Referral Group of Brooklyn to help provide emergency care for pets whose families are unable to pay.
“Positive Tails came about as a need so as not to break these families apart because of a lack of money,” said Erica Kubersky, a board member.
“The original mission at Positive Tails was to help those with financial difficulties and it then expanded into clinics targeting people who are experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity,” Kubersky said. The organization does outreach to target those needing their services.
Positive Tails also works to help abused animals and provides spay/neuter to reduce the problem of overpopulation of dogs and cats. “Many emergencies we see could have been prevented by spay/neuter,” Kubersky said.
For instance, the organization sees many cases of pyometra, resulting from unspayed female dogs.
For those people approved for emergency funding for a sick or injured dog, Positive Tails insists that the animal gets spayed or neutered while under anesthesia.
If not, they must sign paperwork promising to return or be held responsible for whatever Positive Tails paid the hospital.
In New York City, homelessness is becoming epidemic. There are not enough shelters and currently none that allow pets unless they are registered as an emotional support animal. And that doesn’t even guarantee a spot.
“Many people choose to sleep on the streets because of their animals,” Kubersky said. “I think people are acknowledging that those in abusive situations take their animal and have no place else to go.”
Many of the homeless have no family to support them. “Their pets are their family and oftentimes these animals are the thing that keeps them going,” Kubersky said.
“It’s a hard life. I can imagine wanting to quit many times but if you have another being to take care of, it just keeps you going.”
Positive Tails has clinics to provide services, including vaccinations to ensure all the animals are up-to-date on shots. Its June 2019 clinic helped 44 animals; the clinic this past Nov. 23 helped 40 animals. Both were held in Manhattan, but the organization’s goal is to help other underserved communities in New York City.
The organization’s biggest obstacle is a lack of enough finances to help more animals. “We have to put a limit on what we treat,” Kubersky said. “We all wish we had money to treat anyone who needed us and for any ailment, but unfortunately at this time, we can’t. It hurts if there is a long-term disease, but we are always expanding our mission.”
Along with animal care, Positive Tails tries to help humans, too. For instance, they provided human food and backpacks at the first clinic, while a Planned Parenthood mobile van was on-site. The November clinic offered hats, gloves, and food as well as dog food. Some people attended just to receive pet food.
During the clinics, each attendee is assigned a volunteer who accompanies them to where they need to be: veterinarian table, homeless services, and information about shelters, food pantries, and human medical needs.
The all-volunteer organization receives funding through grants and the public and does a donation drive prior to a clinic. Positive Tails hopes to be able to do a minimum of three clinics a year in the future. Kubersky said they are always looking for more partner vet hospitals.
“We would like to help underserved communities within the five boroughs of New York City,” Kubersky said. “We want to help the whole family, not just the animals and not just the people. It’s about keeping the family together.”
Karen Hamza spent nearly two years homeless and on the streets of Los Angeles with her dog Tippy. Now, with 19 years of sobriety under her belt, she’s off the streets and on a mission to help homeless people and their companion animals.
“When I was homeless I was in a state of devastation,” she said. “There are no words to describe it. It was horrific and I was also fighting to stay clean and sober.
“I had family and friends and no one helped me, no one looked for me, asked about me, or anything. I knew something more needed to be done for the homeless. I had nothing to help them with because I was them.”
Hamza started by putting together a resource guide for the homeless. She turned her own feelings of betrayal around and worked hard to do something to help others who were in her previous situation.
“I was operating from that place: rage, depression, betrayal, being numb, it was just tragic,” Hamza said. “I still can’t believe that was me.”
She started Angel Hanz for the Homeless in 2009. It is a unique, grassroots nonprofit with a solutions-based mission to help the homeless and their animals.
“It was my saving grace; it was my salvation because every person I helped, I was helping myself, saving myself,” Hamza said.
Hamza’s resource guide was not fancy but it was a solution featuring information on legal, food banks, medical care, resources for companion animals, shelters, and more. It also included resource information on drugs and alcoholism and domestic violence in every state.
The guide was intended for everyone needing help in the homeless community. Now the resources are online in a newsletter, including information for animals and their humans as well as for homeless veterans who Hamza feels strongly about helping.
“So, there’s no reason for anyone to stay out there unless they are so addicted,” she said.
“Homeless people are all homeless and end up in the same place but they all come from different places,” Hamza said.
One of the biggest issues the homeless in Los Angeles face today is the lack of enough shelters that will allow companion animals. “A lot of the homeless, well that’s all they have, that’s their life,” Hamza said. “I know that because I experienced it.”
Angel Hanz offers spay/neuter clinics. They have monthly gatherings for the homeless and their pets every last Sunday of the month at North Hollywood Park. Flyers include all the information and an animal abuse hotline. Everyone donates their services, which include:
- Emergency medical for the animals
- Board and care for short stays
- Barber for people
- Food care packages
- Animal care packages
- Blankets, and more
Hamza also visits South Los Angeles offering animal care packages to the homeless there as they are in need of collars, leashes and other items.
Acquiring a building or having one donated would be ideal for Angel Hanz. At the least, monthly access to one would enable the organization to do so much more. “We really need a building so when it rains or gets very hot we can have our gatherings,” Hamza said. “When it gets so hot many homeless don’t want to come out preventing them from getting what they need.”
Angel Hanz relies on donations to help with everything including emergency medical for pets, and board and care. Hamza also helps animals from high-kill shelters. The organization has resources to help the homeless get back on their feet.
“If you want our help, we’ll guide you,” Hamza said. “That’s what this organization is all about: to help the tragically homeless and give them a hand up and not a handout.”
In 2020, Angel Hanz will introduce a calendar featuring homeless people and their animals. Proceeds will help the organization continue its work including providing emergency medical care.
Featured Image, Left: Stephanie Augello / Featured Image, Right: Angel Hanz for the Homeless