It is a sad fact that many homeless people find it difficult to access healthcare and die before the age of 50. People who don’t have a fixed home can be hard to reach, so how do they find out about the services to which they are entitled?
People become homeless for a wide variety of reasons but when it happens there is a risk they will become invisible to many organisations.
Hospice care in the UK is envied across the world. We help people and families with life-threatening illnesses in a wide variety of ways, but we must not be complacent about the care we provide, especially to under-represented groups such as homeless people. People can slip through the net and, unfortunately, some people still experience a difficult and undignified death.
Jane Carpenter, one of the senior nurses at St Nicholas Hospice Care, was keen to do more for this often marginalised group following the death of her cousin Stephen. He became homeless as a teenager and died young. His story inspired us to launch the Stephen Project: a scheme to help homeless people to live with dying.
We began by asking support workers and people within the homeless community what they wanted or needed and discovered that bereavement support was high on their list. People were suffering traumatic losses but nobody was supporting them.
Many homeless people have been affected by multiple deaths in the community and have even witnessed deaths first hand. We now train support workers in how to help people through the many losses they have experienced.
The biggest lesson we have learnt is that if you don’t know something exists – such as the Hospice – then you can’t ask for help. The Stephen Project works with hostel managers and homeless people to offer them support, although we know there is still a long way to go in letting people know how we can help.
At St Nicholas Hospice Care we want to help people to die where they choose to – whether that is in a Hospice, at home, in a care home or in a hostel.
We are here for the people who have no-one else to turn to; we are here to help people support each other in their own community. Homeless people may not have a fixed residence, but they are an important part of our community.