Dying with dignity is something that a lot of homeless people will not get to do. But in Salt Lake City, Utah, terminally ill homeless people have a chance to receive hospice care thanks to The INN Between.
According to its website, The INN Between is the first hospice specifically for homeless people in the United States. It provides not only all of their basic needs, such as food, clothes and bedding, but also professional hospice care. Residents have a social circle, emotional and spiritual support, and a warm, welcoming environment — something that few homeless people have access to. The small staff and over 50 volunteers offer a myriad of services, such as music and pet therapy, acupuncture, reiki, massage and salon services as well as other kinds of therapies.
The idea that most homeless people will die alone, on the streets, is gut wrenching to think about. Surely many terminally ill homeless people have no idea that they are close to end of life. And when they are aware that they have a disease, they clearly don’t have the money or the means to afford hospice care. Nursing homes are expensive, and many homeless people are estranged from their families and unable to get help from people close to them.
This is where The INN Between bridges the gap. As the organization says on its website, hospice can’t be delivered in parks, motels or on the sidewalk. People need a place to go.
“They get very emotional about it — to finally have a place to go before they die,” program director Matilda Lindgren said in an interview with PEOPLE.com. “I’ve had big and tough guys get teary and tell me they were saving up pills, figuring they’d end their lives on their own somewhere, maybe in a motel room, so they wouldn’t have to die on the street. They’re glad to know they won’t have to be found by a stranger. That means a lot to them.”
People become homeless for a variety of reasons and oftentimes become estranged from their families. One of the more important services The INN Between offers is to try to reunite patients with their families, giving them the chance to heal long-standing, emotional wounds.
The residents (there is room for 16) at The INN Between often form family-like bonds. They eat together in the community dining room, and share stories in the living room about their unconventional lives. When one of the residents dies, the others come together to talk about the person in lieu of attending the memorial service, which can sometimes be too painful to attend.
Hospice For the Homeless Could be Gaining Popularity
Although The INN Between is the first hospice center dedicated specifically to the homeless, there are similar services around the country.
For instance, the Alpha Project, a nonprofit human services organization in San Diego, California, has a Hospice for the Homeless program. They partner with local hospice providers to ensure that terminally ill homeless people get the care they need.
“When you are facing a life expectancy of six months or less, the last thing you need to worry about is where you are going to stay that night,” said Heather Davis, Patient Care Manager with Silverado Hospice in an interview with The San Diego Union-Tribune. “Really you should be focused on quality of life and maintaining your comfort level.”
Ideally, the Alpha Project would like to establish a hospice center in California that is similar to The INN Between. For now, they can only offer their homeless clients a place to stay in traditional hospices, when funding allows.
Certainly many homeless people around the country have given up on the idea of dying with dignity. Thankfully, with the help of organizations like The INN Between and the Alpha Project, that notion can become a reality.