Where Do Homeless People Go to Die?

BY Kayla Robbins


Compassionate care for those with no home to spend their last days

It’s an aspect of homelessness that’s not often thought about by the general public.

Where can homeless people find relief when they’re sick, injured, or dying?

Obviously, they don’t have the option of lying in bed all day, watching TV when they come down with the flu. A broken ankle that needs rest doesn’t often get it. And not many die in their own bed, surrounded by loved ones.

But we can offer them something better than a death on a park bench, sidewalk, or back alley. The people at Joshua’s House Hospice are dedicated to doing just that.

Facing the End of Life on the Streets

Experiencing homelessness and being diagnosed with a terminal illness are both extremely difficult, life-changing events on their own. Now imagine having to deal with them both at the same time.

This is the reality for many homeless people who get sick. Becoming terminally ill can often cause homelessness for those housed up falling ill.

Imagine trying to keep up with medications and hospital appointments when all your (limited) energy is spent tending to the minute tasks of daily living that housed people barely give any thought. It’s certainly not easy. For many terminally ill patients who are homeless, it can eat away at the precious little time they have left.

Not only does living without permanent housing prematurely age you, but it can also prevent effective treatment of chronic diseases and contribute to higher mortality rates when compared to housed people with similar illnesses.

Joshua’s House wants to remedy that by giving terminally ill homeless people a place to receive care in comfort, improving both the quality and length of their final stage of life.

Dying with Dignity at Joshua’s House

Joshua’s House Hospice is set to open its doors in 2019. This new project will give terminally ill homeless people a place to come and die a peaceful, comfortable and dignified death.

That’s something that you may not even know you want until you’re faced with the possibility of not having it. But providing end of life care for people without housing is an invaluable service that will ease the passing of many.

Based in Sacramento, Joshua’s House Hospice will be the only care facility of its kind on the West Coast. It’s one of only a handful in the entire country. Its mission is to bridge the gap between healthcare providers and homeless patients, helping them to effectively give and receive care. The facility will also educate the public about the inhumane conditions homeless people typically face at the end of their lives.

As I said in the beginning, most people just don’t think about this stuff until it’s explicitly brought to their attention. Once it was, it seems like it should have been obvious all along.

With more attention placed on the issue, hopefully Joshua’s House Hospice and other organizations like it will receive donations to help fund operations. If the model proves successful, we could see more homeless hospices opening throughout the country.

The Impact of Joshua’s House

Even before their doors have officially opened, Joshua’s House Hospice is making a difference in the lives of terminally ill homeless people.

Take Jamie Murphy, a man diagnosed with pancreatic cancer who subsequently found himself without permanent housing. He found out about Joshua’s House and contacted the director, Marlene M. von Friederichs-Fitzwater, thinking it was already open for business. Of course, she explained the project wasn’t completed yet. In the meantime, she offered to help cover the costs of his motel rooms and offering personal support.

Friederichs-Fitzwater followed through on this promise, and Jamie quickly became a vocal supporter of Joshua’s House Hospice. In fact, he was instrumental in securing city council approval for the project when he spoke at a city council meeting, spurring members to a unanimous vote of approval.

Jamie died in August of 2018. But both his impact on Joshua’s House and Joshua’s House’s impact on his final months were huge.

How It All Works

Joshua’s House Hospice operates halfway between a regular homeless shelter and a medical facility. It is not a medical facility on its own, though. It partners with different area healthcare providers to provide services to  residents when and where they need them. Doctors and nurses will make regular visits to the facility to ensure each resident is being properly cared for.

The need for facilities like this must be great, because people are constantly calling to make arrangements for themselves or their loved ones. When its doors open in a few short months, spaces are expected to fill up within a matter of weeks.

It just goes to show how badly we need resources like this.

How You Can Help

If you want to help, you might consider a donation to Joshua’s House Hospice. If you’re feeling more ambitious, you could push for a homeless hospice service to be started in your area. Maybe you could even start one yourself!

The more of these services we have in the more locations, the better. Homelessness frequently comes with a loss of general mobility, as does terminal illness. So, traveling to a far-off hospice location is often not an option. With only a few homeless hospices existing in the whole country, the trip to the nearest one could be arduous, expensive, and drag on across multiple days.

If we want these services to be available to our homeless neighbors, they need to be easily accessible for everyone. That means building them in cities and towns all across the nation.

For the terminally ill, everyday counts. The best time to push for these changes is now.

Kayla Robbins


Kayla Robbins is a freelance writer who works with big-hearted brands and businesses. When she's not working, she enjoys knitting socks, rolling d20s, and binging episodes of The Great British Bake Off.

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