Cutting-edge program takes a new approach to compassionate end-of-life care for one of society’s most vulnerable populations

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SACRAMENTO –  Joshua’s House Volunteer Hospice (Joshua’s House), the first program on the West Coast to create a hospice center for terminally ill homeless people, broke ground in Natomas today. Joshua’s House will help end Sacramento’s tragic history of terminally ill homeless people dying on our streets by providing no-cost supportive care and restoring the dignity of terminally ill homeless people in our community.

“When talking to homeless people, their number one fear is almost always dying alone on the street. No one should have to meet that fate,” said Marlene von Friederichs-Fitzwater PhD MPH, who founded Joshua’s House in memory of her grandson who was homeless and died on the streets at the age of 34. “Joshua’s House will allow terminally ill homeless people in our area to spend their final days in comfort and safety, with the dignity we all deserve.”

Between 20% and 25% of homeless people die from terminal illnesses such as COPD, cancer, and heart disease. After diagnosis, they typically only live for a few months. Most homeless people are disconnected from families and do not have family members who can help care for them. In 2021, more than 190 homeless individuals died on Sacramento’s streets and along our rivers.

Joshua’s House’s property will include ADA-compliant manufactured homes to house 15 residents, with room to add more homes in the future. Joshua’s House is partnering with HomeAid Sacramento, an arm of the North State Building Industry Association, on the construction of the facility.

“Improving the lives of individuals experiencing homelessness is a core mission of HomeAid Sacramento,” said Amber Celmer, HomeAid executive director. “Building together as a community is how we bring meaningful change to Sacramento. We are proud to partner with Joshua’s House because terminally ill homeless people deserve somewhere to live out the end of their lives with dignity and respect.”

Eligible patients will be discharged to Joshua’s House Volunteer Hospice from local health systems, Dignity Health, Sutter Health, Kaiser Permanente, UC Davis Home Health Care & Hospice Program, and Yolo Hospice. The referring health care systems will provide hospice care to Joshua’s House patients.

Joshua’s House will be the first in the nation to serve patients with End-of-Life Doulas trained and certified to provide compassionate end-of-life care. Joshua’s House will also provide patients with clothing, meals and creative therapies such as music, art, and writing. The program is operated by community volunteers and is funded through donations and grants.

“Sickness does not know or care if you are sheltered. Joshua’s House is a template for communities everywhere that will ensure a terminally ill unsheltered person’s final days are filled with compassion, acceptance, respect and love. I am proud to support the work of Joshua’s House in Sacramento,” Mayor Darrell Steinberg said.

Joshua’s House will also be the first facility in the country to offer educational opportunities and internships for nursing and medical school students – including students at the Chamberlin School of Nursing, the California State University School of Nursing, and the UC Davis School of Medicine.

Joshua’s House Volunteer Hospice is slated to begin accepting patients in 2023.

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