Homeless Hospice Caregivers See More People Ending Life Without Resources

Feb 19, 2020, 8:16 PM

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Homeless hospice caregivers have noticed a disturbing trend – community members who have never been homeless have been seeking their help for end of life care.

Nearly 100 people died on the streets of Salt Lake City last year while experiencing homelessness. Some of them spent their last days of life in a hospice for the homeless called The Inn Between.

Executive director Kim Correa said more and more people who have been employed throughout their lives are running out of resources and ending up in their care.

“A lot of people are falling through the cracks,” said Correa. “That’s just something that we’re seeing more and more… people just coming from the community who have never been homeless, but now, they’re facing a terminal illness (and) need hospice care.”

The Inn Between is a hospice in a homelike setting near 1200 East 1300 South. It’s a place where people experiencing homelessness can face the end of their lives with dignity.

Unfortunately, they’re welcoming more people who have never been homeless before that last chapter.

“I should be in the prime of my earning capacity right now, instead of dealing with which hospice to go to,” said Michael Burton, a former mathematics professor.

For 23 years, Burton taught mathematics at the University of Utah, Weber State and Salt Lake Community College.

At age 55, he’s spending the last chapter of life with his St. Bernard, Ben, at The Inn Between.

Ten years ago, Burton noticed he was starting to slow down, and having trouble breathing. Then four years ago, he noticed he couldn’t breathe while walking across a parking lot.

After much testing, Burton was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension.

“The pulmonary artery doesn’t want to give me enough air when it’s necessary,” he said.

It’s a terminal illness, and he could not care for himself at home anymore. He said he feels fortunate that he found The Inn Between.

He always had thought he would have 30 or 40 more years to live.

“Not only at 55 was I faced with needing to do this, but, I also was just about at the end of finances,” he said. “There just wasn’t anything left.”

Burton had worked his entire adult life. He had health insurance and savings. He was never homeless and never expected to land in a hospice for the homeless, but his illness drained his resources.

“I was relying on church funds to get by, and friends – and I was wiped out,” he said.

“He had done everything right,” said Correa. “He had depleted all of his resources, and now found himself unable to make his rent payment.”

Correa said they’ve had residents in similar circumstances from time to time over the years.

“We’re seeing it on a more frequent basis,” she said. “I would say, now 6 percent of our clients are coming to us from the community, and they’ve never been homeless.”

She said they are being wiped out by the housing costs of extended care not covered by health insurance.

“Our healthcare system doesn’t provide a housing component of healthcare,” she said.

People like Burton fall through the cracks. Correa said we all need to plan for the caregiver support we will need from family, friends or professionals. We need to plan for how we will pay for our housing during that chapter of life.

The best thing we can do ahead of time?

“Talk about it,” she said. “Talk about it with our family members. What’s going to happen, ‘if?’ Run some scenarios.”

She said those conversation and preparation will help us better understand what’s going to happen to us, before it happens.

“It’s not just about (the) homeless,” said Burton. “We could become homeless at any point. What defines that could be one road taken over another.”

The Inn Between recently started a grief group that’s open to the community. It’s part of the conversation about the end of life.

Learn more about The Inn Between at their website, tibhospice.org.

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Homeless Hospice Caregivers See More People Ending Life Without Resources