PetSmart Charities President Aimee Gilbreath traveled from Arizona to Grand Junction as part of the opening at HomewardBound of the Grand Valley of new shelters that can accommodate people experiencing homelessness and their pets. (Sharon Sullivan for Colorado Newsline)
When HomewardBound of the Grand Valley’s board of directors met last January for a strategic planning retreat, the nonprofit shelter organization identified as a top priority the need to serve houseless individuals unable to reside in congregate living situations. Homeless pet owners are among that group.
“Previously we had put kennels outside the shelter, but it didn’t work,” HBGV Executive Director Greg Moore said. “People don’t want to be separated, and their pets don’t want to be separated. And, the dogs barked all night. We identified this need with no concept on how to solve it.”
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Coincidentally, Anna Stout, executive director of Roice-Hurst Humane Society in Grand Junction, and her team identified homeless pet owners as a group that their organization wasn’t serving. Stout additionally serves on the Grand Junction City Council as president pro tem, and she was already working on housing issues in her role with the city.
Wearing her Roice-Hurst hat, Stout learned of a sizeable grant opportunity from PetSmart Charities, an independent 501(c)(3) — a Phoenix-based nonprofit funded by donations made at PetSmart stores. The $149,000 grant was for a project larger than what Roice-Hurst could accomplish on its own.
“That’s when the light bulb went on — let’s see if HomewardBound wants to collaborate,” Stout said.
Community leaders give shelters a test run
Moore had already driven to Denver to view 8-by-8-feet Pallet shelters (from the Washington-based palletshelter.com) at a trade show. Pallet shelters have been used for temporary lodging for wildland firefighters as well as providing emergency shelters for the homeless population in various states.
“Once we saw them, we thought ‘holy cow’ — these are incredibly cost-efficient at $7,800 each,” Moore said.
Thanks to the PetSmart grant, funding from the Kaplan Family Foundation and other local funders, Roice-Hurst and HomewardBound installed 10 Pallet shelters in Grand Junction where pet owners can stay inside with their pets. The shelters are located next to HBGV’s North Avenue shelter, where pet owners can access meals and showers. The private Pallet shelters are aluminum-framed, with panels made with fiberglass reinforced plastic with a foam insulating core.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held Saturday to announce the opening of the new Pallet shelters. A “test run” took place that evening with various officials and dogs from the Roice-Hurst animal shelter spending the night — to make sure “we haven’t overlooked anything, regarding cleaning protocols and safety,” Stout said. “We want to demonstrate this is dignified housing.”
In addition to Moore and Stout, among those staying overnight were Mesa County Commissioner Janet Rowland and her husband, PetSmart Charities President Aimee Gilbreath, Townsquare Media DJ Toni Martinez, HBGV board chairman Bill Wade, and Roice-Hurst board-member Carl Hughes. The group toured the shelters, stayed for dinner inside the North Avenue shelter, then hung out together inside the fenced-off Pallet shelter area, before each retired to their unit for the night.
Stout and Moore anticipate houseless pet owners will seek out the shelters once the word is out. Following the Saturday sleepover, organizers planned to distribute handouts at Whitman Park — a major homeless hangout near downtown Grand Junction.
“There’s a vibrant communication network within the homeless community,” Moore said.
The $7,800 cost of each unit included delivery and set up. After hooking up electricity, the cost rose to $11,000 — “that’s cost-effective housing in today’s market,” Moore said.
Each shelter can accommodate up to two people and two pets — depending on their size.
Additionally, Roice-Hurst will provide kennels, maintain a stocked pet pantry with pet food and supplies at HomewardBound, and free pet vaccines provided by Street Dog Coalition.
Although Pallet shelters have previously been tapped to house homeless people, this is the first time the units have been used specifically to shelter humans and their pets together.
Anchors of hope
People experiencing homelessness are experiencing trauma, Stout said.
“We don’t want to add to the trauma by breaking up that family,” she said. “Animals often are major anchors to feelings of hope, purpose, and stability. Regardless of what you’re going through we think everyone should have a pet who wants one. Not having a physical roof does not impact one’s ability to love a pet.”
Like the North Avenue shelter, pet owners will be assigned Pallet shelters on a first come, first served basis. Intake and screenings occur at 5:30 p.m. People can secure a bed ahead of time, however, by volunteering to work at the North Avenue shelter. Military veterans, as well as employed individuals can always reserve a bed ahead of time.
“We want to support that effort to be self-supporting,” Moore said.
Gilbreath, president of PetSmart Charities, flew from Arizona to attend the ribbon-cutting in Grand Junction. The charitable organization appreciates collaborative projects that consider the welfare of both humans and animals, she said.
“We started making more grants to preserve that human-animal bond and keep people and pets together in times of crisis,” she said. “We know pets have a tremendous emotional benefit for humans. We don’t want people who are already struggling to lose their pets. And we know that one of the primary reasons homeless people won’t go into shelters is because they can’t keep their pets.”
Stout intends for the project to be an inspiration and a model for other organizations.
“We want to identify and iron out all the kinks so others can implement something similar,” she said.
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