Laurie Green is like an angel in a city of obstacles.
Twenty years ago, she started Southern Alliance for People and Animal Welfare (SAFPAW) to help homeless animals. Now, she also helps individuals who have pets living in poverty with them.
Her nonprofit, based in Nashville, receives requests for help from within Davidson County and beyond. SAFPAW gained traction for Green in 2001 “after having an epiphany” at the old Tent City, which was devastated by the 2010 flood.
“I had read an article about the dogs that lived in the camp with the folks who had formed a community there, and this was the moment when everything changed for me,” Green said. “I met the most amazing people and the most wonderful animals.
“I offered the services of SAFPAW and from that day forward it grew,” she said. “As I continued to go down to work with the folks and their companion animals, my vision grew.
“I listened and learned from Steven Samra and Jeannie Alexander, two seasoned outreach workers I met while working in Tent City.”
Green began to make visits to homeless with physicians, probation officers and housing resource representatives. She would deliver food boxes, tents, sleeping bags, camping supplies, socks and water.
Then, in 2005, Green, expanded SAFPAW to serve not only homeless animals, but also their humans, as an official homeless outreach organization.
“Our dual mission journey had begun,” she said. “There was no going back for me.”
Today, SAFPAW also works with people in housing who are experiencing poverty, whether they have a companion animal or not.
For animals, SAFPAW provides free spay/neuter through a weekly transport to Animal House, its vet partner, and offers pet health care including vaccines, plus food, collars, leashes and shelters, and straw for animals living outside.
“So often,” Green said, “the folks living in homeless camps find a dog or cat and share their shelter with that animal, but they cannot always move with that animal. If we do not have room, I seek out another rescue program.”
For homeless people, SAFPAW provides tents, sleeping bags, seasonal and other supplies including food, water, bus passes and socks.
The organization also assists individuals in getting their birth certificate, Social Security card and a Tennessee state ID – forms “necessary to starting over and to obtain not only housing and jobs, but all other services requiring ID,” Green said.
An additional arm of SAFPAW is Perian’s Place, a transitional recovery home for women, and a place where foster pets can connect to its rescue partners.
This year, Green said SAFPAW is selling its current Perian’s Place and searching for a larger home and additional funding so they can house more women and foster more animals.
She said to keep her organization going, it needs prayers, volunteers, more donations and board members.
“It is hard to ask for money, [but] without the funding to do the work we have called ourselves to do, we are only good intentions. Donations make our boots move forward and get the work done – a reality.”
The glory of Green’s work is not free of grit, however. “The obstacles,” she said, “are endless.”
While SAFPAW has been successful with receiving a state grant, and grants from foundations, Green said there is still a need for funding to do her work, and blocks up against bringing it to fruition.
“There is never enough permanent housing, or enough housing options, that will accept a companion animal,” Green said of Nashville. “[There are] never enough rehab beds for those without insurance who are seeking a life without drugs or alcohol. And too many – way too many – obstacles on the path to recovery.”
An ultimate block, Green said, is “the city’s refusal to accept that homeless camps are a good thing.” They need to be protected and allowed,” she said, adding that homeless camps provide stability for people and their companion pets until they find permanent housing.
Camps are also a location where individuals can find community, and where a homeless outreach agency can find them, she said.
But, despite roadblocks, Green keeps pushing forward. “The reality of my day to day life is the person camping out in South Nashville who needs a tent and sleeping bag. Or a camping heater and propane fuel for folks outside when the temperatures are dangerously low. Or to check on folks when [it is] dangerously hot. To see that someone homeless can get to a doctor, or has medicine to pick up.
“[It is also] the person that needs dog or cat food, and to make sure the deliveries of pet food or food boxes get to them. Or to pick up an animal that someone has to leave behind, but they do not want to see that animal abandoned.”
She added, “There are the days I go by a camp and find someone who just needs to talk. To sit with someone at their camp is a sacred time for me and they are the times I feel the most at peace.
“It is an honor to walk the path with someone homeless. It doesn’t so much matter if you are a man or woman, it just matters that you can call a bluff when you need to, but drench all that you do with a whole lot of unconditional love.”