As the population of unhoused people continues to grow across the country and Colorado, thousands of people die every year, often while living in the streets, in cars or tents.
Despite this, there are few organizations that offer services to help the unhoused navigate sickness and eventually death.
“This a respite before I die,” said Daniel, somberly, while talking with Rocky Mountain PBS. He’s 63-years-old, unhoused and dying from cancer.
“It’s comfortable in here. I don’t want to die on the streets,” he said. “I’d rather be in here and be comfortable until I’m deceased.”
Daniel is staying at Rocky Mountain Refuge, an organization in Denver that provides hospice care for those experiencing homelessness.
Rocky Mountain Refuge has created a space to make unhoused people comfortable.
“They do everything they can for you here. This room is also cozy,” Daniel explained, gesturing across the space which fits two hospital beds, a dresser, desk and a nightstand. The few possessions Daniel has, he keeps close. He became unhoused almost three years ago.
Rocky Mountain Refuge offers end of life care for those experiencing homelessness regardless of race, age, gender, gender expression, age, nationality, disability or marital status. There are three beds rented out of a room in the Denver Rescue Mission. Certified nursing assistant Timisha Buskey helps keep everything running.
“This is personal to me because my mother passed and watching my mother inspired me to want to take care of others who have illnesses that they will eventually die from,” Buskey explained.
The organization is planning to expand and add more beds. Staff and volunteers offer basic care, help with laundry, and cleaning, while nurses and physicians offer basic medical services. Their mission is to help those who are unhoused find a comfortable and safe space to spend their last days before the end of life.
At least 20 people a day die without a home to live in across the United States, according to Homeless Death Count, a nonprofit that tracks those numbers. In 2020, nearly 8,000 unhoused people died in the streets.
Rocky Mountain Refuge says it is the only shelter of its kind in Colorado and just one of four in the country that focuses exclusively on people experiencing homelessness.
Daniel says he’s grateful for the organization’s services.
“Some people would rather die on the streets, but I’m not one of those people,” Daniel said. “I’d just like to be comfortable until I’m deceased.”
This story is from Rocky Mountain PBS, a nonprofit public broadcaster providing community stories across Colorado over the air and online. Used by permission. For more, and to support Rocky Mountain PBS, visit rmpbs.org.