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Homeless man says he would rather have no bed than give up his dog

David Hill and Gnasher have lived together constantly on the streets for nearly a decade.

By Charlie Wainwright

CHARITIES IN West Yorkshire are being forced to turn away homeless people because they are refusing to give up their dogs.

Many rough sleepers own a pet but organisations which offer shelter cannot take in their animals – some citing hygiene reasons or space issues.

David Hill, 40, has been homeless for the past decade after being made redundant and is the proud owner of two large mongrels, Gnasher and Lucy.

He was present at Gnasher’s birth eight years ago and the pair have been inseperable ever since – even though it has meant David has been turned away from countless shelters in Leeds.

Only once has David been able to stay in a shelter overnight, but he was asked to leave the day after when his dog Lucy came into season as it was unsanitary.

Gnasher is a large eight year old mongrel and David’s best friend.

“It was either me or the dogs, they’re my only friends. What else could I do?” he said.

Matt Wigley, 29, outreach support worker for the Leeds branch of homeless support charity Simon On The Streets, said: “We would support an individual with a dog in the same way as any other homeless person in terms of emotional support and providing food.

“However, owning a dog would make accessing some of those support services an impossibility particularly where accommodation is concerned.

“From speaking to several people who have dogs and are homeless, the importance of pets – and I’ve seen someone with a ferret! – can be invaluable in terms of giving someone the responsibility and unconditional love which I believe to be key components in an individual’s recovery.

“Having said that it’s not all rosy like in the film A Street Cat Named Bob! The other side of the argument I suppose is that it could be considered cruel to keep dogs on the streets when they have no capacity to choose.”

The main hostel in Leeds, St George’s Crypt, does not facilitate the accommodation of dogs and is the only place that offers a roof over someone’s head in an emergency.

The two charities regularly campaign in Leeds to raise awareness, including recently at Leeds Trinity University.

A lot of council properties will not accept dogs, which dramatically reduces options for those with pets. However, Mr Wigley said: “I believe during Emergency Cold Weather Provision this rule is slackened.”

Lewis Garland, communications manager for Localgiving which works with charities in Leeds, said: “Across the UK there are hundreds of grassroots groups  and charities working to support homeless people in their area and to tackle associated issues such as mental health and substance use.

“These groups have an acute awareness of the problems in their area, as well as having long-term trusting relationships with their beneficiaries. These groups understand better than anyone else what is needed for the well-being of the people they work with – as well as any dependent animals they may have.

“Anyone looking to support homeless people in Yorkshire therefore should make contact with these local charities such as St George’s Crypt to find out what support that they need – be it volunteers, donations or  awareness raising.”

St George’s Crypt, Leeds, says there are four main ways that members of the public, or other shelters, can offer help:

  1.  Assistance in finding suitable accommodation that allows pets, (talking to local vets or animal shelters).
  2.  Assistance finding appropriate long-term kennelling if such accommodation cannot be found.
  3. Developing community capacity to provide and give out dog food (similar to food banks but for dogs).
  4. Developing relationships with vets to provide free healthcare.

Andrew Omond, project manager at St George’s Crypt advises that these four things are good steps in the right direction for street dogs and their owners.

However, different organisations working alongside the homeless offer different advice on how to help those who find themselves homeless.

  • Flow Aid recommends offering sanitary products for homeless women.
  • iChange21 recommends offering: dog food, a token for a vet, a cheap phone, socks and a sleeping bag.
  • Hannah Bates, 20, works in association with the Salvation Army who advise the public to donate to charities so the right help gets to the right people. Items can be donated such as bedding, clothes, socks and foods that don’t require the use of kitchen appliances.

What do you think?