When we started our work in 2009, the problem Hand2Paw identified was two-fold: 1) Youth experiencing homelessness in Philadelphia do not have the adequate hands-on support to succeed in work settings and 2) Philadelphia animal shelters are overwhelmed with animals and often lack the resources to provide necessary care to animals beyond their basic needs.


Hand2Paw works with “opportunity youth,” between the ages of 18-24 living in Philadelphia, and experiencing housing insecurity or aging out of DHS care who have immense potential to realize their capacity for creativity, resilience, and dedication to themselves and others. Our program participants are likely to have faced adversity and life experiences that have made their path toward adulthood particularly difficult, including, but not limited to: poverty, trauma, oppression, homelessness and/or foster care.

Many of the city’s foster children age out of the system without a permanent placement and nearly 40% face homelessness shortly thereafter.

By partnering with agencies that serve homeless teenagers and those aging out of foster care, Hand2Paw is able to reach out to young people who have experienced housing insecurity, and at times abuse and neglect.


Research indicates that only 10% of homeless youth access services designed for them, and that youth disconnected from services experience greater risk for a variety of psychosocial problems including substance use, mental health problems and greater difficulty exiting homelessness. Our objective is to provide those youth who have faced challenges with traditional employment with opportunities to learn the skills they need to transition to long term employment.

  • Although the issue of homelessness exists nationwide, the problem is particularly acute in the city of Philadelphia, which a 2018 Pew study found to have a 37% childhood poverty rate.
  • That same study found that 35% of adults who were raised in poverty reported experiencing physical abuse and neglect and 32% experienced physical or sexual abuse in the home.
  • In addition, a 2015 Drexel study found that 1 in 4 young adults in Philadelphia are disconnected from both school and work.

Our participants are the real people behind these statistics.

For more information, check out our Homelessness and Anti-Racism Resources page.


Approximately 20,000 animals enter the animal shelter system in Philadelphia every year in the hopes of finding their forever homes.

Some of the most common reasons pets find themselves in a shelter are due to no fault of their own, such as:

  • Family moving or losing pet friendly housing,
  • Homelessness,
  • Lack of financial stability to provide food or vet care, and
  • Death of owner.

Other times, the animal may be facing medical or behavioral issues that pose a challenge to the family. Hand2Paw, as part of the No Kill Coalition, aims to help owners within the Philadelphia community with resources for vet care and behavioral support that will keep pets and families together during times of hardship.

Although Philadelphia’s shelters and rescue partners are working hard to decrease these numbers and increase the number of animals placed in loving homes, many shelters are underfunded and lack staffing to provide proper enrichment and stress reduction for animals in their care. Since animal shelters must prioritize providing the basics of food, shelter and medical care, they cannot devote the resources they would like to improve the quality of life for the animals.

Putting these two challenges together creating one synergistic solution is Hand2Paw’s mission.

Learn More About Adopting a Pet