A supported housing scheme in the heart of Birmingham has opened its doors to welcome dogs for the first time, in order to enable homeless individuals who are sleeping rough to stay with their pets.

Part of a new pilot project, Zambesi is a 32-bed scheme managed by housing association Midland Heart.  Funded by Birmingham City Council, Zambesi works with individuals which require emergency, short-term accommodation. Rooms on the ground floor of one building which overlook the internal gardens, have now been assigned for rough sleepers with dogs.

Paulina Colomby, operations manager at Midland Heart and Zambesi, says, “Individuals are referred to Zambesi through a variety of channels. This can include self-referral, local charities and agencies or through our own internal rough sleeper team. However, this pilot is specifically working with rough sleepers who feel they have no alternative option but to sleep on the street if they do not want to be separated from their dog. In the past the majority of rough sleepers have often refused to engage or take up available accommodation if their dog is unable to stay with them.

“For many, their pet is the last link to their previous life and it is a responsibility they cherish.  Through working with homeless dog owners we now have a greater understanding about the importance of owning a dog, the therapeutic benefits they provide and the emotional impact of separation. Since the pilot started, engagement levels have increased and barriers are being broken down, which means we can support more people.”

Sadly, it isn’t uncommon for rough sleepers to be denied accommodation because they can’t bring themselves to give up their dog. The lack of dog-friendly policies has also led to a situation where victims of domestic violence are unable to leave their abusive household to go to a shelter, as it would mean leaving their pets – often a source of great emotional support – in the hands of their abuser.

Dogs Trust has been addressing the issue with the Hope Project, and is now working in a partnership with Midland Heart to ensure Zambesi’s facilities are suitable for dogs.

“Dogs, as well as their owners, need to feel safe and comfortable, but the overall responsibility for the dog remains with the owner.  Our main priority is to our customer, staff and other residents who must always feel secure,” says Paulina.

“The dog remains with their owner in their room, where they are solely responsible for the dog’s behaviour.  We also signpost the dog owner to information and advice on how to ensure their dog has sufficient vaccinations.

“The pilot has been running since the beginning of the year and we currently have two dogs at the scheme with regular referrals coming through.  We have also not placed a limit on the number of rooms which can accommodate dogs as we are looking at it on a case-by-case basis.  It is driven by need and safety of existing customers.”

Whilst this is Midland Heart’s first pilot in Birmingham, it has similar schemes in Northampton and Dudley, which have already proved to be a huge success.


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