This story originally aired on KJZZ and is being published as part of a collaboration with the Arizona Republic and azcentral.com. To hear the original audio version, go to KJZZ.org.
Inside a medical care facility in central Phoenix there’s a small chapel with frosted glass windows.
On the wall there’s more than a dozen framed photos of smiling faces. These are the people who have passed on here; many were in the final stages of their life.
“They all brought their gifts to this world and they ended up in a place where they had no one,” said Lin Sue Cooney, Hospice of the Valley Community Engagement director. “It’s our collective responsibility as a community to make sure that they have dignity and comfort at the end of life.”
As the homeless population of Maricopa County grows, it includes more aging Americans who have a unique set of concerns, particularly when it comes to terminal illness and end of life issues. Since 2012, the non-profit Circle the City organization has been providing medical respite care for the homeless and is now providing hospice care.
The state’s largest emergency shelter, Central Arizona Shelter Services, known as CASS, saw 423 clients over age 62 last year.
CEO Lisa Glow said the oldest, 89, came into the shelter pushing a walker. Her son was taking her pension and she was homeless.
“There’s vulnerability to fraud, vulnerability to disease, vulnerability to abuse and being taken advantage of,” Glow said. She said there aren’t enough resources at CASS or in the Valley to handle the predicted influx of older people who will end up on the streets and in poor health.
READ THE REPORT: End-of-life care is new beginning for some homeless patients