The Street Homeless Animal Project’s mission is to assist the street homeless community in obtaining veterinary care and supplies for their companion animal. We collaborate with Smith’s Veterinary Hospital and the Santa Fe Animal Shelter’s Wellness clinic for spaying and neutering, vaccinations, routine check ups and preventive care, flea and tick removal, emergency care, surgery and medications. We also work closely with PetCo to provide food, leashes, and harnesses.
Many street homeless, like many of the rest of us, find the companionship of animal can alleviate some of the symptoms of stress and poor health. Street homeless are at a high risk of suffering from post-traumatic stress, and / or other mental or physical health issues. While the street homeless do not have the resources to obtain a trained assistance animal, the positive benefits of companionship between human and animal is undeniable.
Persons that are considered "street homeless" are not enrolled in a long-term or emergency shelter, nor are they part of a transitional housing program. The street homeless may camp in the arroyos or in the mountains; they may live in abandoned buildings, or they may sleep in their vehicles. The street homeless, as a condition of working with SHAP, must be on the street 24/7 with their companion animal.
None of the emergency and long term human shelters in Santa Fe and Northern New Mexico have the resources to house companion animals as well as their people. Many street homeless choose not to obtain shelter services, fearing that the relationship with their companion animal will have to end. Many street homeless will risk their own health and safety, as well as that of their companion animal, by not seeking services, so that they may remain together. SHAP was founded to help those street homeless keep healthy and clean companion animals. The hope, is that if the street homeless can build a trusting relationship with SHAP outreach, they may be more trustful of other human-related health and shelter services. Our long range plan is to build a network of foster families and volunteers, so if a street homeless person needs to be away from their companion animal, perhaps due to surgery or incarceration, we can have options available.
In 1998, when Karen Cain moved to Santa Fe, she drove around town, with the trunk of her car packed with food, asking the homeless if their companion animals needed food or veterinary care. She received my counseling license in 1999 and began working, the following year, at a transitional housing program for homeless families in Santa Fe. There, she realized that the companion animals of these families were also impacted by homelessness.
By 2005, the street homeless community began seeking her out. The informal program flourished and, in 2009, we made the program official by receiving our own 501 (c) (3). We now have an active Board of Directors and growing cadre of volunteers.
The program’s method of delivery doesn’t veer too far from its original days. I receive phone calls and meet clients to deliver food for their companion animals, as well as arrange for the variety of veterinary services and support that companion animals require. SHAP serves approximately 300 clients each year.