Author: Ted Fong

ABC News10’s Michael Anthony Adam’s story on homeless and dying cancer patient Jamie Murphy set off a flurry discussion online. It came just days before Sacramento City Council voted to uphold the Planning Commission’s decision to approval our conditional use permit. Jamie himself gave a chilling testimony at that meeting. Mr. Adams also interviewed Marlene for this story. We would like to thank Mr. Adam’s for his timely coverage.

Read article by Michael Anthony Adams.

On April 12, 2018, the City Planning Commission unanimously approved the Conditional Use Permit (CUP) to convert an empty warehouse at 1501 North C Street to Joshua’s House. Individual City Commissioners added comments following the vote including “This is the most noble project ever brought before us,” and “you are to be commended for addressing this significant issue.”

However, during the required waiting period for appeals, Sean Wright, the president of the Alkali & Mansion Flats Historic Neighborhood Association, filed an appeal citing “vague use” as the reason for the appeal. This meant that the CUP would go to the Sacramento City Council for review and a hearing on the appeal. The City Council met on May 15 to hear from those appealing the City Planning Commission approval and from those supporting Joshua’s House. Marlene von Friederichs-Fitzwater, founder of Joshua’s House, and Nick Avdis from the Thomas Law Group, briefly described the proposed Joshua’s House and how it would improve the area while providing hospice and comfort care to those experiencing homelessness at the end of life in a safe, locked, secure facility.

Following remarks from those in opposition (two people) and those in support (16), the Mayor asked for a vote, but City Council members elected to make individual supportive and grateful remarks before taking a vote. At the conclusion of their comments, the Mayor and City Council voted unanimously to deny the appeal and approve the conditional use permit paving the way for the purchase of the property on June 22, 2018 and the filing of building permits to being demolition and construction.

Photo courtesy of Armando Cielo Flores

Not many people would leave their executive job to ride a trike and serve coffee to the homeless. But that’s exactly what Sister Libby Fernandez said God called her to do after leading Loaves & Fishes for more than a decade. Last year, she started Mercy Pedalers, a bike ministry based on the Works of Mercy. More than 40 volunteers pedal through the streets of Sacramento connecting with homeless men and women.

You may have read about Sister Libby and Mercy Pedalers in the Sacramento Bee. But what is not so well known is that Sister Libby was instrumental in garnering early support for Joshua’s House from city leaders. She introduced Marlene to incoming Mayor Darrell Steinberg, Councilman Jeff Harris, and County Supervisor Phil Serna. These key relationships culminated in last week’s vote by the Sacramento City Council to approve the conditional use permit for Joshua’s House, clearing the last hurdle before construction could begin.

As the long-time executive director of Loaves & Fishes, Sister Libby embraced Joshua’s House from the start. Its mission was similar to that of Loaves & Fishes and to the vows she took when she entered her ministry. Sister Libby often quotes the Gospel of Matthew, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.”

Last Tuesday, May 15, 2018, we went on a ride along with with video camera in hand, biking from Midtown K street to the lower end of the K Street Mall. We saw first hand this former administrator’s skills as a biker, barista, and spiritual worker. Her grace and compassion radiated everywhere we went. We met Rhonda, Benny, Randy, Alfredo, and Greta. They all lit up upon seeing the person in the Mercy Pedalers blue vest approaching from a distance.

The morning was filled with several tender moments as Sister Libby ministered to alcoholics and the mentally ill. The way Sister Libby greeted them, asked questions, offered advice, and served coffee and energy bars was a blessed sight. Our journey lasted an hour and a half until she ran out of coffee. She would go out two more times that day.

 

Last month we met with Kristy Catchings in Pollock Pines, just an hour’s drive from Sacramento towards Lake Tahoe. She lives in a house with large windows, nestled in the hills dense with pine trees. For as long as she can remember, her sister Lynette Godfrey had always seemed troubled. She often acted out and ran away from home.

This was in the 60s. Her family lived in a rural Midwest town where children were taught to be seen and not heard. Parents did not openly discuss their troubles with others much less with school psychologists or mental health professionals. Kristy recalls, “This was a time and place where things like mental illness and sexual abuse were tucked neatly away in the closet. People who suffered mental illness were often put into facilities.”

Lynette was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia but not until she had become an adult. By this time, she had become self-medicating and addicted to drugs. She lost custody of her son and eventually had to live on the streets. This life style was incomprehensible to her family. While they made every effort to help her, the forces of homelessness, drug addiction, and mental illness were just too great.

Kristy recalls the last time she saw her sister. In 2009, she found Lynette by combing the streets of San Diego and asking homeless people for her whereabouts. “They were living on the streets in cardboard boxes. I had to step over feces and puddles of urine.” Kristy had one surprising consolation. People would greet her warmly and talked about Lynette with fondness. They were always smiling and very happy despite their circumstances. “I could see the humanity in their eyes. They may have been homeless, but they were real people who have the same emotions and spirit as others.”

Kristy met Lynette in Balboa Park. Lynette’s was gaunt. She lost her front upper and lower teeth. She had dark circles under her eyes, yet she ran towards Kristy as if she hadn’t a care in the world. Beaming from ear to ear, Lynette introduced Kristy to her boyfriend and announced that they were getting married. The two people in front of her were in love and they were planning their future together just as she and her husband were doing. Despite their appearance, she saw in in them a sense of normalcy.

Later that year, however, Lynette died of a brain aneurysm, most likely brought on by her heavy drug use. “The thought of Lynnette lying on the street while taking her last breath and not being surrounded by her family is just heartbreaking to me,” Kristy stated. At her funeral, her boyfriend got up to speak. He was distraught over her passing. He immediately began sobbing. While Kristy empathized with him, others seemed annoyed and embarrassed that he was making a spectacle of himself. “They were probably thinking, who is this crazy guy,” Kristy said.

In hindsight, Kristy wishes that her family had sought help for Lynette when she was a child. She said, “As an adult looking back at events, I can see clear signs where my sister was crying out for help. Her unaddressed issues lead into a downward spiral she never could recover from.”

Kristy and Lynette lived in a blended family. Their parents felt that Lynette’s behavior was a reaction to her biological parent’s divorce and having adjust to her stepfather. As Lynette grew older, she started to hear voices, which her parents thought, were demonic. They did not understand nor seek help for her schizophrenia, which was the root of the problem according to Kristy.

By telling her story, Kristy wants to help other families avoid losing their loved ones to mental illness and homelessness.

CBS13 Sacramento broadcasted this story about Joshua’s House on February 21. Special thanks to reporter Angela Musallam and to John Gay for his interview.