Skid Row, L.A.
In the shadow of Downtown LA's towering financial district, thousands of the city's homeless congregate in an area known as Skid Row. Although most people choose to avoid this area, the heart and soul contained within these 54 forgotten blocks should not be underestimated. My Dog is My Home founder, Christine Kim, worked on Skid Row and describes the area as
"The best and worst aspects of society. Skid Row is a community in the truest sense of the word, but at the same time it is a stark example of the symptoms of individualism. Surely, the range of human emotions and experiences are all here in this small area of Downtown LA."
The concentration of homelessness creates a unique environment, but it also provides a glimpse of many universal challenges that confront homeless communities across the country. One that seemed to go unaddressed on Skid Row was the sub-population of people experiencing homelessness with animals who struggled to receive social services because they were accompanied by a dog or cat.
My Dog is My Home has formed to support people experiencing homelessness who face barriers to accessing shelter, housing programs, and the vital services contained within those systems due to their refusal to separate from their companion animals.
John & Ludwig
While working as a case manager for a supportive housing program, Christine met John--the first of her clients to have moved from homeless to housed with their companion animal. John and Ludwig were inseparable, and it was clear to Christine that Ludwig was helping John with a number things including mitigating his depression and anxiety. However, John was never informed of the organization's animal policy, nor did he inform management that he had a dog. John correctly guessed that there was a "no pets allowed" rule, so he hid Ludwig in his room and sneaked him in and out of the building in his backpack. Unfortunately Ludwig was discovered by property management, and John was given the ultimatum of either getting rid of his dog and staying housed or staying with his dog and getting evicted.
Through an intensive and investigative advocacy process, John and Ludwig were eventually allowed to stay in housing together. Christine was able to assist John with obtaining documentation that designated Ludwig as his Emotional Support Animal (ESA) and file a request for a reasonable accommodation. Once John had submitted supporting documents showing Ludwig as his ESA and other reasonable accommodation paperwork, John's right to keep his dog with him was established.
John and Ludwig were the catalyst for a whole movement to raise awareness of the plight of homeless people with animals. In John's case, he had a sympathetic and active case manager that was more than willing to fight with him until a positive resolution had been reached. Countless others may not be so lucky.
Although addressing the co-sheltering challenge requires systems-based and policy laden work, the organization's beginnings are rooted in something that appears far less political--the art of storytelling. Inspired by her experience with John and Ludwig, Christine embarked on a quest to raise awareness of the struggle of homeless people with companion animals. The result was a multimedia exhibition called My Dog is My Home: The Experience of Human-Animal Homelessness, in which Christine aspired to provide a place where the experts (or those who actually live the experience) had the opportunity to tell their stories. The project continued to develop years after the original exhibition closed in January 2014. Since its closing at The Animal Museum (formerly known as the National Museum of Animals & Society), the exhibition has traveled to four other locations both nationally and abroad in pop-up format, and there have been countess film screenings and lectures using media excerpts from the exhibition.
The project's work eventually expanded beyond the scope of the exhibition and the mission of The Animal Museum. My Dog is My Home spun off from the museum in the summer of 2016 and today, its work has grown to encompasses research, consultation, and education. The original exhibition continues to live in the training and education wing of the organization. To read more about how we accomplish our mission "to increase shelter and housing access for homeless people and animals," visit our "What We Do" page.