Division Director of Client Services, Father Joe’s Villages
Jesse Casement has dedicated her decade-long career at Father Joe’s Villages to supporting San Diegans experiencing homelessness and poverty. In that time, she’s championed the progressive view that shelters should welcome pets along with their humans — a policy that, for many neighbors in need, has been truly life-changing. In our Animal People interview, Jesse shares the impact animals can have on our lives and why maintaining these relationships is so crucial.
Have animals always been a part of your life?
I grew up in the Midwest and remember always having multiple pets at a time — mostly dogs and cats, but also lizards, fish, rats, guinea pigs and turtles. You name it! The animal who made the most impactful impression on me was my cat Lewis. Lewis was a stray kitten when a friend found him near our workplace, and I couldn’t resist taking him home.
Lew had the unfortunate role of being the first pet I ever had on my own. He quickly taught me what it means to be the sole provider for a pet and all the responsibility that entails. He was such an affectionate, patient and outgoing friend, and could win over even the most anti-cat person with his charm. I treasured every moment we had together over our 19-year journey. His legacy is the work I do now to help people experiencing homelessness stay with their pets.
What inspired you to work to prevent and end homelessness with Father Joe’s Villages?
I started working at Father Joe’s Villages in March 2010, shortly after I moved to San Diego. My past employment experience had focused on working with youth in group home settings as well as in juvenile corrections programs. I knew I wanted to continue working with kids but was drawn to work with the family unit instead of unaccompanied minors. It’s the families that made me fall in love with this work, and I remain invested in supporting family members — furry and human! — to stay together as they stabilize their housing.
Why is it so important to help provide housing support that includes pets?
It’s an honor to share life with animals, and I want to do everything I can to help the people we serve at Father Joe’s Villages maintain that precious relationship with their own pets. We know many people experiencing homelessness will choose to decline shelter if they can’t take their pets with them. Our ability to welcome people and their pets into our shelters at Father Joe’s Villages removes a significant barrier to shelter entry and to ending their housing crisis.
We can help our clients keep their family whole. There is, of course, a cost to providing pet-friendly programs and facilities, but the investment is worth it when it means clients are treated with dignity. I would be heartbroken if I had to choose between staying on the streets with my family or moving into the safety of shelter. It’s not a decision I want our clients to have to make.
What does it mean to you to see this work in action?
The most rewarding part of my work is seeing someone realize they have power over their circumstance and helping them to regain that power. Our clients are the experts in their lives and our role is to empower that expertise and really listen to what the person in front of us says they need to accomplish their goals. It’s a privilege to be a part of that process.
I’m so grateful for the relationship Father Joe’s Villages has been able to develop with San Diego Humane Society and other local animal welfare organizations and veterinary providers. SDHS has been a fantastic partner and resource for our staff and clients. We love to learn from the team of experts so that we can provide the best services possible to our clients and their pets.
Are pets a big part of your life?
Animals bring peace and joy to my life. The hardest day can be instantly lightened by the simple and unassuming company of one of my pets. Over the past year and a half, we have said goodbye to our three senior pets — Windshield (15-year-old Boston terrier), Paige (14-year-old Boston terrier), Lewis (19-year-old cat) — and, unexpectedly, to Groovy (4-year-old guinea pig).
Our home was suddenly too quiet and there just wasn’t enough fur stuck to our clothes, so we adopted two new family members: JJ and Emily. JJ is a tortoiseshell cat who we adopted from San Diego Humane Society in July 2020, and Emily is a guinea pig we adopted from Wee Companions in September 2020 as a new companion to our sweet little remaining guinea pig, Rosie. The three girls get along well and have really brightened our days with their snuggles and antics. We couldn’t be more delighted.
What do animals add to your daily life?
In my personal life, animals provide comfort, predictability and structure. In my professional life, animals bring a levity to the frequently heavy work that we do. For instance, connecting with a client over a game of fetch with their dog in the courtyard can help to build trust and rapport so that we are better able to assist the client in meeting their unique needs.
To learn more about Father Joe’s Villages, visit my.neighbor.org.
Pet families looking for assistance with pet food or supplies, housing support, low-cost veterinary care and more can visit sdhumane.org/supportservices.
Published: September 20, 2021