PITTSBURG -- Army veteran Tom Jones was homeless when he took advantage of a nonprofit's help that not only made it possible to move into a house in Pittsburg but also provided a home for his three beloved cats.
Jones, 68, said he would not have moved into the new home he shares with roommates, after living in a Concord shelter for several months following the loss of his apartment, unless his cats could come along.
"Those are my cats. I am not going to desert them," said Jones, referring to Rocky and Napoleon, who are 5-year-old brothers, and Bodie, a 2-year-old male. Jones expects to bring over his cats, who are temporarily staying with a former neighbor, in the next few days.
Alisha Jenkins, a case manager with the county's homeless program, referred Jones to Martinez-based Shelter Inc.'s Supportive Services for Veterans Families program, which provided the help that came just in time for the observance of Veterans Day earlier this week.
"We paid for his first month's rent to allow him to get some savings (and) much-needed pet supplies."
Now, thanks to a $9,800 charitable grant from PetSmart stores in the Bay Area, vets with pets who need help finding housing or staying in a home also can get help with the pet deposit on a new place, temporary boarding, or paying for needed pet supplies along with short-term financial assistance such as paying the first month's rent or back rent.
Homeless shelters typically don't allow pets. And most vets won't take the offer of a roof over their heads if it means parting with their pets, said Felton Mackey, an outreach worker with the program geared to helping low-income veterans in Contra Costa County.
The program, funded by a grant from the Department of Veterans Affairs, has helped more than 250 veterans since it started two years ago. Trouble was, it didn't allow the funds to be spent on veterans' pet-related needs, he said.
"That's one of the issues we had. We were looking for homeless vets, not homeless vets with pets," Mackey said. "They don't want to do anything without their pets."
Ryan Monge, a district manager at PetSmart, made the grant donation after learning about the funding restrictions from Mackey, a regular customer of PetSmart. "There are homeless people who choose to stay homeless because they can't take their pets with them. ... It seemed like a great opportunity for us to really help out in a way that we can, helping to enhance people's and pets' lives," Monge said.
Shelter Inc. provides a broad range of social services aimed at preventing and ending homelessness in Contra Costa County in addition to working with veterans. It is among 150 nonprofits nationwide that received funding from the Department of Veterans Affairs to carry out its Supportive Services for Veterans Families at the local level.
The program, which is open to both single vets and those with families, also works with other nonprofit and government agencies to connect vets with health, education and job-training resources in addition to helping with housing issues.
"What I think gets lost in the system is pets," said Tim O'Keefe, executive director of Shelter Inc. "Here in our community we don't have a lot of resources to house vets with their pets, so this gives us an opportunity to get vets into housing with their pets due to PetSmart's generosity."
Contact Eve Mitchell at 925-779-7189. Follow her on Twitter.com/eastcounty_girl.
To find out more about Shelter Inc.'s Supportive Services for Veterans Families program, call 925-957-7579 or go to www.shelterincofccc.org.