About a quarter of all homeless people in the United States
live in California, nearly 130,000 on any given day. California also has the
highest rate of unsheltered homeless individuals in the nation: 70%. Does lack
of veterinary services in Los Angeles County homeless shelters provide a
barrier to entry in California?
While homeless people with pets reported fewer symptoms of
depression and loneliness, having an animal makes it more difficult to stay in
a shelter. Sometimes there aren’t enough beds to go around and people forgo
their beds if the shelter prohibits its members from keeping their pets.
Forty-one shelters in Los Angeles County allow pets conditional on
documentation that shows the pets are support animals or that their
vaccinations are up-to-date. The other 113 shelters don’t allow them period.
Up to 10% of the state’s homeless population have pets
according to Pet’s of the Homeless, a nonprofit organization. If California
state Senator Robert Hertzberg’s proposal, SB 258, passes, the state will
increase veterinary service spending by $5 million for homeless shelters. The
proposed bill would provide food and basic care for residents of the shelter.
A homeless shelter in Sacramento has experimented with the
idea. Front Street Animal Shelter opened a pet-friendly facility in December
2017 to help homeless residents who did not want to feel that they were
abandoning their pets. Their employees vaccinated and fed 10,215 pets in 2018,
at a cost of roughly $50,000. However, the return on investment
via benefits to the physical and mental health of the homeless and their
animals is difficult to quantify.
One potential benefit lies in encouraging homeless people
with pets to use shelters when in need. To determine whether allowing pets
increases uptake, we analyzed data from 157 shelters in LA County, of which
forty-one allow pets. We looked at utilization rates to see if we could detect
a difference between homeless shelters with and without veterinary services.
After regressing veterinary services on the utilization rate of all homeless
shelters in Los Angeles County, we found that providing veterinary services had
a strong, statistically significant impact on the utilization rate of homeless
shelters in Los Angeles County.
Shelters in LA County that provide veterinary services have 21% higher
Hertzberg is attempting to “find something with an immediate
impact” on the California homeless epidemic, and providing veterinary services
is a potential solution. The data indicates that average utilization rates are
higher in shelters that allow pets. This suggests that the homeless do value
these veterinary services. Moreover, as the figure shows, shelters with vet
services are operating at capacity more frequently than those without such
services suggesting that homeless with pets more frequently suffer from lack of
openings. One word of caution: the causality could run the other way, with
shelters in high demand for other reasons having added vet services. We should
also note that opportunities to expand may be limited as many Los Angeles
County shelters lack the infrastructure necessary to care for the pets of the
Nonetheless, our results show that, provided shelters have the physical capacity,
the funds from SB258 would have a large impact on the homeless in California by
relieving them of having to choose between shelter and animal companionship.
the figure shows, many homeless shelters are already at or over stated
capacity. Thus the data are right-censored and we use a Tobit regression to
account for this upper limit on expressed demand.