Ed is 47 years old. He worked hard in construction all his life until a back injury sidelined him eight years ago. Unable to work and in constant pain, Ed ran out of medical options and refused to take opioids to relieve his pain. His wife worked two jobs to pick up the slack, but it wasn’t enough. Three years ago she left Ed. With no family and all his former work friends distant, Ed found himself unable to make an income or pay rent. Believing it would all get better soon, he opted to sleep in his car for a couple of weeks to save money.
Three years later his car was towed away, and he grew tired of the cold winter and lack of options. He hitchhiked across the country to warmer climates and found himself in Sacramento, Calif. He heard Californians were more receptive to people in his situation.
He was able to get shelter from time to time and even got a hospital bed to alleviate the pain that had become his life. It was during one of these hospitals stays that a nurse noticed his response to infection wasn’t what it should be. A couple of tests later Ed’s already tough life took a turn for the worse. The infection was too far gone to stop, but doctors and nurses were willing to try. Ed, however, was not up for this fight. The constant pain, the lack of regular medical care that could have made it easier and a social safety net that failed him had beaten him. He faced his final weeks on the streets, alone, sick and dying.
Joshua’s House is a hospice in Sacramento, Calif., for those who are terminally ill and homeless. Begun as a partnership of Goodwill Industries and Health Communication Research Institute, the effort is named in memory of Joshua Lee who passed away in 2014. Joshua had a vision of preventing seriously ill homeless men and women from dying alone, scared and in pain on the streets or along the rivers of their community.
Anna suffered from multiple chronic diseases much of her life, which eventually led to her death. She became homeless when her epilepsy was too much for employers to handle, and she was evicted from her apartment. She then developed lung cancer. Her biggest fear was always to die alone like she never existed. Sadly, she did.
The homeless problem in America has many contributing factors. One of the fastest growing contributors is financial ruin due to illness. Nerdwallet estimated that 57.1% of U.S. personal bankruptcies in America were due to medical bills, making it the leading cause of the financial calamity that often precedes homelessness.
Ed is a fictional person, but Ed’s story is not uncommon among homeless individuals. Anna was very real, and she was very much alone when she died.
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