Category Archives: Story

An image of Joshua Nielson in a black hooded sweatshirt standing outside of a shop in Midtown with his hands in his pockets

Welcome to our first blog about the homeless community in Sacramento, CA, their health issues and Joshua’s House, a hospice house for the terminally ill homeless.

The first story in this web of intertwined stories begins in January 2016 when Marlene von Friederichs-Fitzwater,Ph.D., MPH, professor emeritus at California State University and associate professor, University of California at Davis, School of Medicine, retired to embark on a mission  in loving memory of her grandson, Joshua Lee, who died at the age of 34 on the streets of Omaha, NB.

Joshua had struggled with drug and alcohol addiction most of his adult life and often found himself homeless, either living on the streets in a variety of cities or staying with friends. Over time, Marlene learned of his concern for others on the streets in various cities and his desire to do something with his life to make a difference. Following his death in 2014, the concept of Joshua’s House, a hospice house so that those among us who are homeless  and terminally ill can spend their final days in comfort and dignity, began to evolve.

This blog is a way to share the many stories of people who are homeless and living with illnesses – and whose stories may have never been told if it weren’t for this project.  It is also a means of increasing public awareness about their plight — a path for our community to understand, heal and transform. We will all die with little choice, but we hope to influence where those who are most vulnerable spend their final weeks, days, hours.

Rachel Naomi Remen

[Stories] touch something that is human in us, and is probably unchanging ... It's what holds a culture together.

Rachel Naomi Remen


Rachel Naomi Remen

Our goal is for Joshua’s House to embody Joshua’s grace and the impact he made on others. “Everyone left a conversation with Joshua feeling uplifted.”

The journey toward creating Joshua’s House began when, early on, Marlene met with Sister Libby Fernandez, RSM, CEO, Loaves & Fishes, who immediately connected her with key people throughout Sacramento with an interest in the homeless. One of the first of those critical contacts was Moe Mohanna and his daughter, Nikky, the owner of a large vacant warehouse on the Loaves & Fishes campus. Moe ad Nikky graciously shared their commitment to the homeless and embraced the idea of using about 6,000 square feet of their warehouse for Joshua’s House.

Joshua’s House is a project of a community-based nonprofit that works closely with the homeless, whose needs and experiences are designing the form, function and breadth of this remarkable hospice, which will be one of just five such facilities in the nation.

Currently, four people who are homeless serve on the Advisory Board for Joshua’s House and the design for the facility is based on focus groups and interviews with homeless men and women. Some recurring themes that resulted were “I don’t want to be reminded that I am poor!” “Please bring nature inside.” “It can’t be drab and institutional.” “We need to be able to keep our pets with us.”

To that end, the hospice house will be bathed in natural light, have abundant open space, including fountains, greenery walls and an atrium. Initially, there will be 10  beds, with room for 10 more.

Residents of Joshua’s House will also have opportunities for art, music and writing therapy and spiritual guidance. If desired, there will be reunification services so patients can reconnect with family members.

Currently in Sacramento, the terminally ill homeless have no hospice options and are likely to be discharged from the hospitals to the streets, to night-time shelters or river encampments that are often teeming with communicable diseases. The homeless often have no place to store medication, tend to wounds or care for themselves hygienically. Most will die on the streets or on the river banks.

The need for Joshua’s House is urgent. We hope you will join us to ensure that the terminally ill homeless don’t die alone, forgotten and in pain.

Langston Hughes

Hold fast to dreams, For if dreams die Life is a broken-winged bird, That cannot fly.

Langston Hughes


Langston Hughes

A computer rendering of the new Joshua's House

Something unexpected, and quite unthinkable, happened to Marlene von Friederichs-Fitzwater in 2014. The founder of the Health Communication Research Institute and former professor/director at the UC Davis Cancer Center, was notified that her 34-year-old grandson had died homeless while living on the streets of Omaha, Neb.

His death came five months before his twin sons were born. With the pain and shock of loss still fresh, and with tears in her eyes, Marlene says, “My grandson Joshua was a truly wonderful human being. Even though we were very, very close, I had no idea he was living on the streets.”

She was aware that he had some health issues, and a few brief encounters with substance abuse, but never imagined that he would be among the homeless.

“He was someone that everyone wanted to be around,” she says. “He didn’t have a judgmental bone in his body, and he had a crazy, almost genius, sense of humor.”

Read the full article by Craig Dresang »

Vet clinic at Loaves & Fishes

Mercer Clinic for the Pets of the Homeless is a 501(c)3, non-profit organization (completely independent of UC Davis) providing free medical care for the animal companions of the homeless. The clinic meets the second Saturday of every month at Loaves and Fishes, a Sacramento-based organization which provides an array of services to the homeless.

Mercer Clinic is a cooperative effort between multiple groups, including veterinary volunteers (doctors and students), undergraduate vet aide students, and veterinary companies sponsoring efforts. More than 30 veterinary students, working alongside veterinarians, volunteer their time each month, working with clients, conducting physical exams and practicing preventive medicine on feline & canine patients (heartworm prevention, flea treatment and vaccines).

Mercer Clinic would not run smoothly without the help from the Vet-Aide Club, an undergraduate club that offers students the opportunity to gain experience with veterinary students and professionals. The clinic gives these students the opportunity to gain crucial hands-on experience while assisting at the clinic and working as a team with veterinary students.

Mercer Clinic is also an extremely valuable educational experience for the veterinary students. Not only are the students able to utilize a clinical application of their studies, but they also gain valuable time working with and learning from practicing veterinarians. Students must follow up on their cases—if waiting on test results—by contacting the clients, in turn teaching them valuable communication skills. These types of responsibilities will help veterinary students improve skills that will enrich their careers in the future.

In addition to improving the lives of the pets of the homeless, the clinic works to reduce pet over-population. Clients are counseled on the benefits of spaying and neutering. Surgery is provided at no cost, usually at a spay/neuter clinic held the day after, should the owners elect to alter their animals. Since 1993, the clinic has altered over 1,200 animals.

Mercer Clinic for the Pets of the Homeless was selected as the 1998 recipient of the American Veterinary Medical Association Humane Award and the 2005 recipient of the Sacramento SPCA “Humane-itarian” Award. Both awards recognize outstanding efforts to eliminate animal cruelty and promote the humane treatment of animals.

Photos from Mercer Clinic

Vet student at clinic

an image of a homeless man sitting in a car looking very tired and distraught

The elderly man winced as two friends lifted him from his car, and he walked, as if on broken glass, along the curb of a dead end street in an East Oakland neighborhood. It took him several minutes to walk 15 yards, and when he sat again he needed still more time to regain his breath.

His eyes were pressed shut, and as he waited for the pain and breathlessness to pass, his fingertips worked the skin of one knotted, ebony hand. Finally he lifted his head and, with the hint of a smile, said his name was Dwane Allen Foreman. “I’ve got a long story,” he said.

The short version is that Foreman is 68 and homeless, and has HIV, hepatitis C, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and, more recently, lung cancer, and he worries he will die on the street. If he does, he will be one of hundreds in the United States who do so every year, dying in the kind of squalor and emotional and physical suffering that is more commonly the hallmark of war zones and developing

Such cases are becoming more common, researchers said, as the homeless population ages. In the early 1990s, 11 percent of homeless adults were over 50. Now more than half are 50 or older.

Read the full article by Bob Tedeschi »