The bulk of U.S. homeless shelters welcome two-legged visitors with open arms, but very rarely do they admit the dogs or cats who accompany them. It’s a catch 21 for pet owners who need both a place to sleep and food to eat, but who will refuse to do so if it means they have to abandon their best friends.
The National Alliance to End Homelessness estimates roughly 600,000 individuals were homeless on any given night in January 2015, and anywhere from 5–24% of the roughly 3.5 million total homeless people in the U.S. have pets.
This leaves the country with a dilemma that prevents us from helping the homeless without first considering that their animals are family, too.
Entrepreneur Simon Rowe from Australia first developed the “Sleepbus” after seeing a man trying to sleep near a busy street in 1993. He checked on him, gave him some money, then went home and cried, knowing there had to be a better way to offer the homeless a safe haven.
Thus, the revolutionary and comparatively inexpensive Sleepbus was born, and charities from around the globe jumped at the chance to implement the idea in their own countries. Rowe told The Sydney Morning Herald:
It was not my intention to go overseas. […] Sleepbus is all about stopping the need for people sleeping rough in Australia. But from day one, that first $20,000, I actually got more donations from the UK than I did anywhere else. Then I was getting emails and calls from Irish politicians saying ‘we think you can solve our homeless issues over here.’ So it certainly resonated with everybody. I even got an email this morning from Chicago, from a charity there, who said we’d like to build some Sleepbuses, can you help us. I’ve got about 50 charities, individuals or organisations in America that have already signed up and said ‘when you’re ready to package up and launch it, we’re in.’
The buses have up to 22 bed-sized “sleep pods,” personal storage lockers, air conditioning, a stay-in overnight caretaker, and—our favorite—kennels for the four-legged residents.
The “rooms” even have a television with channels advertising local homeless services, and the ability to charge electronic devices.
Rowe began crowdfunding on GoFundMe, first surpassing his goal of $20,000 for Bus #1, then $50,000 to outfit it with all the necessities, and finally $85,000 to launch a 90–day pilot program. Each time he upped the goal, supporters helped raise that amount and more.
Charities at home in Australia and around the world are seeing the benefits of Sleepbus, namely in its cost-effective strategies. It costs only $27.50 per person per night to stay, and even offers educational opportunities at local schools about homelessness.
Perhaps not one of the most obvious benefits, but invaluable to those individuals it affects, is the option to find safety, warmth, and comfort without having to leave pets behind. It is one of the great weaknesses of today’s homeless shelters that dogs and cats (and small animals, too!) are not offered the same kindnesses as their owners, despite being very much a part of their family.
So, if you happen to spot a Sleepbus on your way to work, or simply moving about town, know this: we are taking ever-larger steps closer to effectively helping the homeless by eliminating a difficult and heartbreaking choice.