The Homeless

'It's the right thing to do.' City approves homeless hospice, despite objections

Marlene von Friederichs-Fitzwater, a retired associate professor in the UC Davis College of Medicine, plans to open a hospice for terminally ill homeless men and women on North C Street in Sacramento.
Marlene von Friederichs-Fitzwater, a retired associate professor in the UC Davis College of Medicine, plans to open a hospice for terminally ill homeless men and women on North C Street in Sacramento. rpench@sacbee.com

The Sacramento City Council on Tuesday evening gave unanimous support to a project that would offer residential care for homeless people suffering from terminal illnesses.

Following an emotional public hearing, the council ultimately rejected a neighborhood association's appeal of the hospice. The care facility will be one of the first of its kind in the country.

Named Joshua's House, after the late grandson of founder Marlene von Friederichs-Fitzwater, the home at 1501 North C St. will offer comfort care to homeless people facing imminent death from cancer, heart conditions, AIDS and other illnesses. It will have 16 to 20 beds and feature private rooms, an indoor garden, skylights, a library, a chapel and a kitchen.

The hospice is designed to care for people who might otherwise die on the streets.

Von Friederichs-Fitzwater, a retired associate professor in the UC Davis College of Medicine, said Joshua's House is only the eighth such project in the nation and the first on the West Coast.

The Alkali and Mansion Flats neighborhood association filed an appeal of the $3 million, privately funded project, citing a lack of public outreach and information. Group spokesman Sean Wright also argued that the area has an overabundance of homeless services, including the nearby Loaves & Fishes complex, that are a detriment to the quality of life of neighborhood residents.

Eighteen people spoke at Tuesday's public hearing, all but two in favor of the plan.

Among the speakers was Jamie Murphy, who said he has terminal cancer and is on the verge of homelessness. "I'm scared," he told the council. "I don't want to go out like this."

At the meeting, Mayor Darrell Steinberg asked staff members to work on finding immediate housing for Murphy.

Councilman Jeff Harris, in giving his support to Joshua's House, pointed out that the bodies of at least three homeless people were discovered last year in the district where Joshua's House is to be located.

"When they perish in the bushes, that belongs to all of us," he said.

Harris rejected the notion that Joshua's House might affect crime or property values in the area. "This will cause no harm to the River District," he said.

He moved to deny the neighborhood association's appeal, "because it's the right thing to do."

The full council agreed.

Von Friederichs-Fitzwater said Joshua's House could open by the end of this year or in early 2019.

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