For more than a month, John Hammarstron felt a pain in his abdomen that never seemed to go away. He had two jobs and it was a daily struggle to work through the discomfort. Soon it became so bad that he couldn’t keep his job and afford to pay rent. John ended up on the streets.
“I thought it was just a bellyache,” he said, “but a buddy of mine said I should go to the doctor, so I went to the ER. They took X-rays and an oncologist came in and said, ‘It’s not good; you have cancer.’ ”
Rest and recovery in a safe place
Fortunately for John, the Brother Francis Shelter in Anchorage could help. In 2015, Providence and Catholic Social Services partnered to create a safe place for people who are homeless to recuperate from serious illnesses. The shelter reserves a few rooms to house qualified patients around the clock, while home health nurses, social workers and other health care professionals from Providence monitor their recovery.
“They need that rest most people would get if they were at home, but they don’t have a home,” said Lisa Caldeira, program director at Brother Francis Shelter. “Here, they are given a room, access to bathrooms where they can shower, and care from nurses who can visit them every day, although it’s usually less than that.”
John came to the shelter in late 2015 and he said the 24-hour rest addresses his physical well-being by providing a safe haven from the dangers of street life. “If something was to happen to me, I can’t defend myself. I’m too weak,” he said. “If it wasn’t for Brother Francis Shelter, I’d be in a heap of trouble.”
Responding to community needs
Providence’s community health needs assessment identified poverty and related issues such as adequate housing as an area of great need. Without a warm bed to recuperate, vulnerable patients returning to life on the streets would face a high risk for re-hospitalization.
“When their bodies are deconditioned, they can’t heal. When they are cold, they can’t heal. This offers another option,” said Deborah Seidl, director of in-home services at Providence.“
About 450 nights of shelter have been provided through this program since it began in 2015 thanks to Providence’s $500,000 community investment. The program is starting small with two to four beds so it can be developed properly and link participants to social and behavioral health services that change lives for the better.
Honoring the dignity of each person
The pancreatic cancer John is battling is taking a toll on him physically, he said, but he feels better equipped to fight the disease with the extra care he is receiving.
“I’m trying to keep good thoughts,” he says. “I do a lot of praying. The shelter, and Providence, and especially Bethany Burgess, my social worker, have been treating me with nothing but kindness and respect.”