We're pleased to once again be recognized by the Spot Magazine "Top Dog" contest for Innovative Programming. But what exactly does that mean? We've changed how people can access our services, and developed a way to ensure that those who need them the most get them in a timely fashion.
PAW Team is the only organization that helps both people and pets. Our core mission is to provide veterinary care for pets of the homeless. We also help people in very low-income situations - and that's part of the challenge we face. How do you ensure that the limited dollars available go to those that truly need them the most? How do you define "greatest need"?
Over the past two and a half years, PAW Team has refined how we qualify people that are not actually living on the streets, and it's working. A little backstory: When the economy crashed in 2009, we saw an enormous number of families and individuals facing extreme financial crises. We responded by opening our safety net to essentially anyone with a Food Stamps card. We helped thousands of animals and their families but that is not a sustainable model. In 2013, we began dialing back to our core mission of helping the homeless.
We also reached out to human social service agencies that deal with the same core mission folks we do and created the Partner Agency Network. Through this carefully selected network of agencies we have been able to reach the homeless and people in true financial need earlier than ever. When their human services caseworker connects with them, they can complete our Partner Agency Network referral form which is essentially an affidavit that they've already screened them for financial need. With this, the client is automatically accepted as a PAW Team client for up to six months. We are now delivering preventative care instead of dealing with a crisis. This reduces the suffering of the pets, keeping them healthier and happier.
With this system, we are also able to help people. No one gives you a manual on "how to be poor". When people get on the waiting lists for housing they may not be told that in order to take their pets with them the animals have to be current on vaccines, or be altered, or be on parasite control. We provide these and other services, helping families stay together, no matter how many feet they have.
To qualify for PAW Team services, clients must meet two requirements: first is that all pets in the household must be spayed or neutered. The second is there must be a demonstrated financial need. Based roughly on the Federal poverty line, we treat people as households, not numbers. We consider all sources of income and subsidy for everyone living in the home. We look at all the expenses and what kind they are.
For example, if a potential client is within the income level established but is spending their dollars for non-essential services such as entertainment, dining out, cigarettes, etc. we will decline to accept them as a client until they can demonstrate that their pet is a priority for them; we encourage them to consider setting aside some funds just for their pet rather than for non-essential purchases for themselves. They're encouraged to come back in three months when they have had a chance to rearrange their financial priorities to demonstrate their pet is important to them.
On the flip side of the equation, when we meet with a client who might not technically fit into the income levels but is dealing with extraordinary situations, we listen to what is going on in their lives and can take them as clients if needed. As an example, we recently qualified an older woman who lives alone, has income and government subsidies slightly above the poverty line, but has extremely high utility bills due to living in a poorly maintenanced apartment, has large uncovered medical expenses but has a long history of taking her cat to the vet for regular check ups and vaccines. That person has consistently demonstrated that her pet is a priority and she's allocating her limited funds toward essential services such as heat and medicine.
What's so innovative about this is that we treat people like people and not numbers, and expect people to take care of their pets. Novel idea? No. Being able to use this method to help ensure that those who truly do have the greatest need get help for their pets? Yes. Thinking outside the box? Yes. We can do what government agencies cannot because we're not guided exclusively by a hard and fast set of numbers.
We have also looked at how we can streamline our clinics. By pre-qualifying, people now only have to bring in their certificate of eligibility and photo ID - a lot less hassle than it used to be. We set appointments during the week when bus service is available, and they can do their paperwork one-on-one with a volunteer indoors, instead of on the streets as in the old days. This gives us an opportunity to talk to people in depth about how our clinics work, and answer any questions they may have.
So all told, our program is more innovative in that it identifies people in true need, looks at people's lives as a whole and not just a number, and gives a greater degree of respect and dignity.
Thanks, Spot Magazine, for recognizing the changes we've made to help those who need it the most.