SOAR began in 2014, when its founder, Angela Hopson, began working for Horizon House as a Street Outreach Professional, visiting local Indianapolis homeless camps. As a member of PBSO (Professional Blended Street Outreach), staff worked with humans living outdoors to help them get connected and access services that could help them get off the streets and into housing.
Angela, a formerly homeless individual herself, saw that many of the humans living on the streets had pets, and that there existed no programs to assist these companion animals. Initially, she just took out Ziploc bags of food, and sometimes flea meds. She began to save money to provide basic vetting, such as spay/neuter and vaccines. A few months into her work, Dr. Leslie Brooks reached out to Angela, interested in serving pets of those experiencing homelessness in her veterinary capacity. The two women began what is now SOAR’s Street Outreach Program. Leslie and Angela traveled camp to camp, under bridges, in vehicles, and abandoned buildings providing food, vaccines, exams to pets, and connection to social services for humans in need.
The Humane Society of Indianapolis heard of their work, and offered supportive cost of vetting pets living on the streets with their humans. With the support of Indy Humane, SOAR began to strategically vet every animal at each camp location - so that health and safety of pets was not a concern for tenants at those locations. By the end of year one, SOAR had provided basic vetting to every cat and dog in Indianapolis homeless camps, and began focusing on new-to-homelessness people and pets.
Near the end of the first year, SOAR was approached by a social service agency about a man living in an abandoned building who had become homeless after becoming ill with cancer, and losing his job. He needed a life-saving surgery and inpatient medical treatment for at least 6 weeks – but was refusing, and facing death – because he was afraid of losing his dog while he accessed care. SOAR took in that dog, our first foster, and dad was able to receive the care he needed and reclaim when he was healthy and housed.
That gentleman and his dog launched what is now SOAR’s Crisis Response Fostering Program. Preserving the human-animal bond through experienced crisis taught our teams that if both person and pet are considered a unit, and treated as such - they are more likely to be connected to services, engaged, and progress through services to housing than if the bond is severed or ignored. Many humans have barriers to accessing programs meant to help them because of their pet ownership and fear of losing their animal. For many people in crisis, their cat or dog is their world and only friend.
We have learned quite a bit over the years of serving vulnerable people and pets, grown in many ways, and added various services that help humans and animals access care, and navigate those services. What started out as small bags of dog food has turned into an innovative organization with a strong focus on human and animal health, access and navigation of services, reducing trauma, development of support networks, and strong collaboration with our network of human services, hospitals, and animal welfare agencies to provide short and long term supportive care to both humans and animals.
SOAR now no longer only works with those experiencing homelessness – but works with both housed and homeless humans experiencing crisis such as: domestic violence, emergency hospitalization, medical or mental health crisis, illegal evictions or other displacement.