Homeless and homeless pets – a mixed problem | Local News

On the last day of June, interwoven affordable housing and homelessness plagued Melinda Lamos, 50, and her two sons, 24 and 22, along with their four cats, three dogs and two birds.

As an animal lover with pets – including two medically licensed emotional support dogs – their search for a place to live has become more difficult than Lamos could have imagined.

The family has been looking for a place to live since the sons lost their jobs in June. Without these paychecks, the family lost the ability to pay the rent on their apartment in Laconia, where they had lived since 2017.

“We went to a campsite for two weeks. We went wherever we could,” said Lamos, who has a support animal with anxiety and PTSD. Even though emotional support dogs and assistance dogs are covered by laws that protect housing for people with disabilities, “That doesn’t stop owners from finding an excuse to ignore us,” she said.

Their situation is not unusual in a world where affordable housing is scarce and the competition for everything is fierce.

For the past four months, Lamos, his sons, and two dogs have slept in an RV towed behind a frequently broken down truck, parked outside malls, Wal-Marts, and ride-on lots scattered throughout. the Lake District.

It means a life on the move, with days and nights spent in an unheated motorhome with no electricity or water, moving “where the police give us the least trouble,” Lamos said. She receives $ 794 per month in disability benefits and a housing voucher of $ 1,300 per month for a two-bedroom apartment, but there are hardly any two-bedroom apartments available at this price in the area. lakes, and even fewer that accept pets.

At the end of August, with the possibility of staying in a hotel in Franklin, Lamos gave his cats and a bird to his cousin to make it easier for him to find a home. By this time, his trained assistance dog was dead and one of the cats had killed one of the birds. Lamos said she was surprised to see young mothers with children, laden with bags and backpacks, making their way through the woods behind their parked campervan. Sometimes there is a pet.

“There are people who sleep in cars with blankets on the windows. It’s 1,000 times harder (to find an apartment) if you have pets,” Lamos said. By law, landlords cannot refuse a viable tenant who has a service animal. The apartment management company told Lamos it couldn’t bring a service dog there unless the owner agreed to accept it, she said.

It is almost impossible to estimate how many people are currently homeless in Laconia or the Lake District. This is a changing population, counted primarily by social service agencies that work with people who do not have a permanent address. Some are not connected to service providers. Some are too new to know where to turn. This includes some tenants who were evicted after the COVID moratoria expired. Help from municipal social services does not always materialize, Lamos said.

The next one-off tally in January will give an estimate of the number of homeless Granite Staters, including in Belknap County. The shortage of affordable housing and rising rents are continuing and growing factors, said Stephanie Savard, director of the New Hampshire Coalition to End Homelessness. “It was a problem before the pandemic,” and only accelerated after the pandemic. There is not enough affordable housing to provide a safety net for people evicted for non-payment of rent and who cannot find other housing.

Animal shelters across the state are strapped for resources to find homes for a growing number of pets that belonged to people who lost their homes for various reasons that escalated during the pandemic.

The New Hampshire Humane Society in Laconia received an average of 10 requests per week from people seeking pet delivery, said executive director Charles Stanton. Last month, the number of calls rose to six to eight per day, many of which are from “people abandoning animals due to economic hardship or housing issues,” Stanton said. “We are doing everything we can to keep pets with their families while realizing that some people are out of breath,” Stanton told the Granite State News Collaborative last month.

“Absolutely,” the surrender of a pet “can be a side effect of homelessness. It’s a tough situation for someone to have to decide to move into an apartment that might not accept pets, ”said Savard. “Often people can choose to stay homeless for the sake of not abandoning their pets. “

As the situation worsens, many give in.

The Humane Society shelter currently has 18 dogs, 51 cats and a guinea pig, after a sharp increase in surrenders in late September and early October. “I would say six or seven out of 10 assignments are related to infection or housing and some sort of security,” Stanton said.

The numbers of adoptions have remained fairly constant, he said, as have the woes expressed by owners who have no other option. “In almost every case, people have referred to ‘astronomical’ housing costs and that new developments are not affordable for the average household,” Stanton said.

Stanton said he facilitated “numerous interviews with people who lived outside of their cars” who contacted the shelter to make sure their pets had a place to stay where they would be cared for.

Through its Safe Harbor program, the Humane Society can keep a pet for two weeks while an owner finds a home. But this time frame is unrealistic, given the lack of options in their price range.

Stanton said the shelter depends on income from adoptions and can only accommodate a limited number of people in temporary care. Most families “ultimately make the decision to surrender because they realize that leaving their pet in a shelter for long periods of time is not a good situation for the animal.”

Stanton said the Humane Society has plenty of food and pet supplies to give to struggling families. At the shelter, the most important problem remains the workforce.

“We are definitely understaffed. Job descriptions have been posted on social media and our website for months. Caring for animals in a shelter is hard work. It’s not lucrative, but it’s very rewarding, ”Stanton said. He hopes the residents of the area will answer the call. “We always need nicer, more compassionate people who can engage in this kind of work,” he said.

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