Homelessness and Animal Companionship in Bloomington, IN

Christine H. Kim, MSW

Abstract

This study is the first to examine Bloomington, IN’s subpopulation of people experiencing homelessness with animals. To understand this subpopulation’s basic demographics, social service needs, and existing resources, eight families were recruited for the study from a service fair offering free veterinary care, pet supplies, and grooming to companion animals of the homeless. The event was intended to be an isolated kick-off for a pilot year of capacity building programming in partnership with local homeless service providers. This article presents information which was collected from the first service fair through semi-structured interviews and the administration of the Lexington Attachment to Pets Scale. The data from this study reveal participants’ high attachment to their animals and a need for more pet-friendly overnight shelters. Other themes that emerge include homeless animal guardians’ restricted access to day-time services, a struggle to find temperature controlled places to sleep in extreme weather, and an absence of documentation supporting emotional support animal claims. Bloomington’s homeless advocates, direct service professionals, and program developers can ground efforts to assist people experiencing homelessness with companion animals using findings from this study.