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Leaders of SPCA, Homeless Group Meet

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Ever since the animal group's sleek Robins-Starr Humane Center opened in October, a persistent whisper was heard: How could they raise $12 million for pets when agencies that serve people are struggling?

Two students from Virginia Commonwealth University's Adcenter recently brought the question into the public eye. They designed cardboard signs with pointed messages for homeless people to hold. One read: "Richmond has more animal shelters than homeless shelters."

A reporter from National Public Radio heard about the sign and traveled to Richmond to follow the story. Was the sign's statement true? Had Richmond's animal and homeless agencies become adversaries? Around Christmastime, the NPR reporter interviewed Robin Starr, executive director of the SPCA, and Homeward board member Dean Jarrett, a vice president at The Martin Agency, to find out.

Both groups feared the story would make "uncomfortable comparisons" between the two, so they called a joint meeting last week to discuss damage control.

Reggie Gordon, the executive director of Homeward, had never met Starr. He was a little nervous, he admits. But after the meeting, he emerged with hopes of developing a relationship between the agencies.

"It was very cool," Gordon says. "We discovered that we have a lot of similarities." At the same time, Gordon and Starr agree that "homeless animals and homeless people are apples and oranges," he says. It isn't fair to make it seem as if the agencies are battling each other for funds.

Gordon and Starr began talking: How had the SPCA been able to raise more than $12 million in its recent campaign, while Richmond's homeless agencies often struggle to make ends meet? The SPCA's high-profile, three-year campaign had been direct, intense and well-organized. Starr attributes its success to staying focused on the singular aim of building a state-of-the-art adoption center — "keeping the vision foremost and not getting sidetracked with other things."

It sounded like good advice for Homeward, which oversees a multitude of projects and agencies as part of its five-year plan to end homelessness. Gordon plans to meet again this week with Starr and his board members to talk about a possible partnership in the fund-raising process. And the SPCA center will even play host to Homeward's January board meeting. — Melissa Scott Sinclair

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