Summer hopes for a better life for her and her cat CD. Photo: Paul JeffersSummer Jackson and her cat share a common start to life – alone and without a family they wound up living on the streets.
The 20-year-old says CD Princess Cheshire chose her as her owner by meowing at her in an alley off Lygon Street, Carlton.
"Before I found her, I was going to suicide," Ms Jackson said.
"I saved her life, while she saved mine. She needed me and I needed her. I don't know my family, she doesn't know hers."
A cardboard sign neatly explaining their predicament and asking for donations is up front.
Behind a second sign advertising $1 pats and $5 photos, sits CD who, unusually for a cat, does not leave Ms Jackson's side.
Homeless off and on since she was aged 10, Ms Jackson fusses over her, stopping to rearrange her blanket or give her a reassuring pat as she speaks.
"When my anxiety and stuff starts playing up, I just pick her up and pat her and that helps me cope," she said.
Ms Jackson is one of a growing number of homeless people who keep pets for companionship and security.
But with conventional social support services unable to provide pet food, a demand has grown for services to help provide care for these animals.
Yvonne Hong with homeless man Peter McGann and his dog Bella. Photo: Paul Jeffers
Not all of the few hundred people the group helps are sleeping on the streets. Some are at risk of homelessness, while others are in temporary accommodation or are fleeing family violence.
Armed with plastic zip-lock bags full of dog and cat biscuits, Ms Hong walks the city's streets on the weekends handing out the pet treats to those in need.
"I see more and more people with pets on the street," she said. "A lot of them have no one else in their lives, so the pet is constantly there with them."
She stops to meet Peter McGann, 47, who began sleeping on the streets about a year ago when a workplace accident left him severely injured.
He said a friend bought him English boxer cross, English Staffordshire bull terrier, Bella from the classifieds website Gumtree.
"She helps me with my mental health, my depression, and she protects me at night time," he said.
"I don't have any idiots coming up to me and standing over me."
James Burgess and his dog Yarndi live on the streets in Melbourne's CBD. Photo: Paul Jeffers
Life has been traumatic and unstable ever since.
Mr Burgess says Staffordshire bull terrier cross, German shepherd, Yarndie gives him a reason to get up every morning.
"If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be here," he said.
Kate Chanter, 34, was first homeless at age 15, but later became a trained chef before seizures stopped her from being able to work. She's been back on the streets since July.
She doesn't like to ask people for change, and instead sells The Big Issue and her drawings.
Kate Chanter and her dog Buckley have been homeless since July. Photo: Paul Jeffers
"We feed them before we feed ourselves," she says. "They're our best mates."
Ms Hong said she is sometimes confronted with people who tell her homeless people shouldn't have pets.
"I just tell them, you shouldn't judge, because what if you have a home one day and have all these animals that you love and something happens to you and all of a sudden you're homeless, what do you do, do you just give them up?" she said.
"Animals don't really care whether you have a house or not, as long you are there for them."
A video of animal activists tearing a dog away from a French homeless man, they accused of using the animal to make money, went viral last month, prompting outrage at their conduct.
Ms Jackson said this had happened to her too.
"Some people think because I'm homeless, I don't deserve to have a cat," she said.
"So they take her and take her to the pound. I don't use my animal to get money."
Regardless, Ms Jackson lamented that when her cat is not with her, the same people who help her each day ignore her.
Summer Jackson is homeless and living rough with her cat C.D. Princess Cheshire Photo: Paul JeffersNearby a man in poor physical condition, wearing tattered and stained clothes, staggers around with his hands cupped asking for money. No one makes eye contact as the stream of people pass him to visit Ms Jackson.
Noel Murray, from the Council to Homeless Persons, said it was "outrageous" for people to suggest homeless people's motivation to get an animal was for financial gain.
In fact, he said many services weren't able to take in a person with a pet.
"They would rather live on the streets than part with their loved one," he said.
Mr Murray said governments needed to adequately fund services to provide for the growing issue.
In England, a former homeless street musician made his way out of poverty after writing a New York Times bestseller about how the relationship with his cat saved his life called A Street Cat Named Bob.
"I think it's pretty cool," Ms Jackson said, familiar with his story.
"CD…. is going to be the next Bob the Cat."