New Federal Plan to End Homelessness is Laudable, but Misses the Mark on Definition of Family

After a year of opening up its federal strategic plan to feedback from the general public, the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) has released their new plan to prevent and end homelessness. Home, Together starts out beautifully by calling our attention to the meaning of the word "home" - an idea we hold close to our hearts at My Dog is My Home. 

According to USICH:

"Home enables our families, friends, and neighbors—indeed, everyone in our nation—to have a platform from which they can pursue economic opportunity. Having a home provides people with better chances for succeeding in school and advancing their careers. It also allows them to take care of their health, build strong families, and give back to their communities."

This spotlight on home shows a shift in thinking: to end homelessness, people must have access to a home, which is more than housing alone. Home is where we feel safe, where we recharge, and for some of us, home is where our dog is.

In general, My Dog is My Home supports the plan and its goals, which would ensure homelessness is rare, brief, and a one-time experience. However, the report fails to make mention of animals, despite being encouraged to do so by MDIMH. See the feedback we sent to USICH in September 2017.

For example, under goal 2, objective 2, USICH outlines the characteristics of an effective emergency shelter and temporary accommodations system:

  • Meet the needs of all members of a household and self-defined family and kinship groups, including infants and young children
  • Do not turn people away or make access contingent on sobriety, minimum income requirements, or lack of a criminal history
  • Do not require family members and partners to separate from one another in order to access shelter
  • Ensure that policies and procedures promote dignity and respect for every person seeking or needing shelter
  • Provide a safe, decent, welcoming, and appropriate temporary living environment, where daily needs can be met while pathway

In this section, USICH missed the chance to provide a more comprehensive definition of "family," specifically omitting animals. As animal lovers know, dogs, cats, and other furry, feathered, and scaled companions are a part of the family, and we would hope that they would be recognized and treated as such within frameworks such as USICH's guidelines. But as we know well from experience and from our advocacy work, unless those with power specifically name animals as a part of the strategy to end homelessness, things are at risk for staying the same.

There is still a long road ahead in terms of providing access to facilities for human-animal families, but we still believe this is a winnable fight. Though the deadline to officially comment on the USICH strategic plan has expired, you can still let them know your thoughts on social media. USICH has invited us to keep the conversation going by sharing what your community is doing to end homelessness by using the hashtag #HomeTogether.

Do you do direct service in your community? Snap a picture of your clients' fur children (with permission, of course), tag USICH, use the #HomeTogether and #mydogismyhome hashtags, and post it on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. Send a message that animals are a part of our families and our homes, and they deserve a place in the federal plan to prevent and end homelessness too.