1 year later, Upper Darby’s pet-friendly homeless shelter remains a lifeline

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Chuck Jones never imagined that one day he would be homeless.

“I had a pretty good life for a while,” he said.

He previously worked as a caretaker for an elderly woman, and was living in Upper Darby with his dog, Midnight – a black labrador retriever.

Jones describes Midnight as “his world.” He follows him on long walks in the park, interacting with other people, and making each day meaningful.

“He’s like my baby,” Jones said, “I’ve had him since he was six weeks old. Sometimes I tell people, ‘he’s the one who makes sure we walk the straight and narrow.’”

Breaking Bread resident Chuck Jones sits on the sidewalk with his emotional support and medical alert dog, Midnight. (Courtesy of Stephanie Sena)

In 2022, Jones was involved in a serious car accident, and his injuries were so severe that he was unable to work.

Unemployed and struggling to maintain rent, he was eventually evicted from his apartment. He had no immediate shelter options, so he resorted to sleeping on the streets.

And his struggles continued. Most shelters in the Philadelphia region will not accept pets, and Jones wouldn’t go anywhere without his beloved dog.

“I was out in the streets on my 65th birthday,” he said.

Jones was still living on the street during February, one of the coldest months of the winter.

Besides his own health, he was concerned about how the frigid temperatures would affect Midnight, who was 11 years old. The last thing he wanted to do was give him up. But his friend was getting weaker.

“It was at a point where I had to tie a towel around his back legs and pick him up to support his back legs while he walked with his front,” he said. And he made a very difficult phone call.

“I called my buddy and I said, ‘you got to come take care of my dog. It just about almost broke my heart,” he said. It’s a telling turn of phrase Jones uses to describe his situation at the time.

He has been diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) – a disease that can lead to sudden heart failure. Midnight is more than just his pet. He’s also an emotional support animal and medical alert dog.

But then he heard about one newly opened shelter in Upper Darby called “Breaking Bread” that did accept pets. They only had 17 beds, but Jones was able to claim one of them. He’s also in the process of being rehoused.

“It’s getting closer and closer. I can’t wait,” he said. “I get choked up talking about it.”

Partners at Morris Animal Refuge providing expert care to resident pets. (Courtesy of Stephanie Sena)

‘They’re humans and our neighbors’

Breaking Bread Community opened as the Philadelphia region’s first pet-friendly homeless shelter one year ago, in December of 2022.

The 4,000-square-foot shelter — a converted day-care center — still has only 17 beds, and there are nearly 150 individuals on a waitlist.

Since opening its doors, staff at Breaking Bread have helped ten residents find permanent housing.

For CEO Stephanie Sena, “10 people is too little,” but with the current housing market climate, stories like Chuck Jones’ offer a hopeful outlook.

“It has exceeded my expectations because I know how high the price of rent is,” she said. “You have people in the county who won’t take housing subsidies or housing vouchers. You have landlords who are raising rents regularly.”

  • December 28, 2023
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