John Hardin / Monday, Sept. 11 @ 7:28 a.m. / Op-Ed
HARDIN: Service Dogs, Veterans and the Housing Crisis
I know, from the time I’ve spent looking for housing here, that if you have a dog, you are more likely to find a dead body, D.B. Cooper’s money and bigfoot than you are to find a place to live in Humboldt County. If you’ve ever wondered why so many homeless people have dogs, that’s why. Unless you own your own home, in Humboldt County, you have a choice between having a landlord and having a dog. Having had a few landlords, I can understand why a lot of people would prefer to have a dog.
Some people, however, need their dogs, and everyone needs a place to live. I got this letter from a homeless reader recently, and it should remind people of the kind of people our housing shortage really hurts.
Hi, my name is Lori and my wife Kate and I are new here in this area. Kate is a disabled veteran — she served two tours in Iraq as an Army medic. On her last tour, she was severely injured and then eventually medically discharged from the military. As she recovered back in the US, she dealt with PTSD and was unable to leave her house for months. She then got a Great Dane named Chief who would become her service dog and save her life.
With Chief, Kate was able to go back to school and finish her bachelors degree, then she went to nursing school and graduated with her RN. Chief passed away young, just before Kate graduated from nursing school. Luckily, Kate had Ozzy, our other Great Dane who became her next service dog. With Ozzy’s help, Kate was able to begin her career as an ICU nurse. In the meantime, we rescued another Great Dane named Gilbert, who would then start training to be her service dog (to take over for Ozzy when Ozzy was on break).
Kate blossomed with the help of these two amazing dogs. Kate was deemed disabled enough that she does not technically have to work, she could be collecting a check from taxpayers every month. Instead, she busted her butt and worked hard in a career field that would enable her to give back to society instead of being dependent. Almost 2 years ago, Kate decided to take a job as a travel nurse. We’ve been traveling the country since then with her two service dogs and we’ve had wonderful adventures with them. Kate worked in Crescent City last winter and we both fell in love with the North Coast. We decided we wanted to put down roots here, so when an opportunity came for Kate to work at Mad River Community Hospital, we were elated.
We decided to come to Humboldt County and were hopeful that we could get involved in the community here and stay for a long time. Kate loves her work at Mad River — from her supervisors to her coworkers to the folks she serves — Mad River has been her favorite place out of all the hospitals she’s traveled to. Sadly, we have been unable to find housing here in Humboldt due to Kate’s service dogs and we are officially HOMELESS as of this week.
We’ve stayed in an Airbnb and a VRBO, but we must be out of our VRBO (which is costing us just under $5,000/month) on Thursday as it’s booked with vacationers for the rest of the summer. We’ve spent weeks calling, emailing, answering every ad on Craigslist, even trying to find a clean used camper to live in while we are here. We have been turned down on the phone and in person by multiple landlords here because of the service dogs. Even when they meet us and see the Disabled Veteran license plates on our car, they’ve still illegally turned us down.
We’ve been turned down for housing because of “new carpet” and “new furniture” and just because landlords prefer not to rent to people with dogs — even a disabled veteran who depends on her dogs for functioning in daily life. Landlords here don’t seem to care that it’s illegal to turn away someone because of their service dog. We do understand that there are many people who try to pass off untrained animals as service animals, but we are not those people and we have proof. I’ve reached out to some veterans organizations in the area and I had a great conversation with Ryan from North Coast Veterans Resource Center, who says that this is a HUGE problem in Humboldt County and there are many disabled veterans suffering because local landlords are illegally refusing legitimate service dogs.
I think this would make a good story and speaking out about these issues might help others in the same situation. Maybe drawing some attention to our plight would help us find some housing as well. Kate earns a solid middle-class income, so we shouldn’t be HOMELESS, but we sure are, thanks to the slumlords of Humboldt County.
Sincerely, Lori Ann
Thank you Kate for your service, and for bringing your talents to the Lost Coast. Thank you Lori Ann for sharing your story, and thanks to Ozzy and Gilbert for making it all possible. To be a good story, it needs a happy ending. As it stands, it’s an important story that reminds us of the continuing crisis that our Board of Supervisors refuses to address because greedy landlords pull their strings. I wonder how many of those landlords’ lives Kate has saved since she started working at Mad River Hospital.
Welcome to the Lost Coast, Kate, Lori Ann Ozzy and Gilbert. I hope you find your “happily ever after” home soon.