DC’s Joseph’s House Gives Homeless, Terminally Ill A Place At The Table

This month’s grantee profile looks at a unique hospice, Washington, DC’s Joseph’s House. Like most AIDS Service Providers, this facility is facing some financial challenges, but staff members have chosen to take pay cuts, while continuing to provide top-flight medical care and nutrition to homeless men and women in one of the poorest neighborhoods of our nation’s capital.  We’ve also included the moving story of Mack, a desperately ill man who spent his final Christmas surrounded by family at Joseph’s House.

In 2009, Broadway Cares renewed our support for Joseph’s House with a grant for $17,500.

Joseph's House

With its comfortable décor, friendly atmosphere, great service and appetizing entrees, Joseph’s House could almost be a 4-star bed and breakfast, rather than a hospice providing nursing and personal care around-the-clock, seven-days a week.

And while two-thirds of the patients at Joseph’s House have HIV/AIDS, over the past few years the facility has expanded its services to assist homeless men and women with cancer, hepatitis and other life-threatening diseases.

Founded almost 20 years ago by David Hilfiker, a doctor who saw the toll that the AIDS epidemic was taking among poor and homeless African-American men, many with addictions and/or mental illnesses and a need for skilled compassionate care, Joseph’s House now welcomes women as well as men who are homeless and dying of end-stage disease.  The hospice’s welcoming atmosphere is the result of Dr. Hilfiker’s belief that community itself could be a deep source of healing and transformation, not only for those suffering from end-stage AIDS, but for the people who assist them as well.

Today, with an annual budget of just over $1 million, Joseph’s House has three full-time nurses, five personal care aides (full and part-time), a part-time medical director, an executive director, and two part-time contract personnel in development and finance, plus four full-time volunteers and about a dozen part-time volunteers, says Executive Director Patricia Wudel.

Setting the Table
Even Martha Stewart would approve the manner in which meals are presented at the Joseph’s House table.

“The great majority of the men and women referred here were homeless just prior to hospitalization, after which they were referred to Joseph’s House,” Wudel says.  “For many, it has literally been years since they sat a table that was set attractively with placemats and flowers – and nothing plastic!”

She adds that the lines blur between residents, staff and volunteers.

“On a very deep level, people find their place at the Joseph’s House table. Remarkable healing happens when those who are at Joseph’s House because they are very ill – sit beside nurses and volunteers, and other residents’ kids or parents – when everyone is just folks, and anyone might be asked to ‘please pass the peas.’”

Wudel continues, “Whether a person is well enough to eat much or not, the fact that their place is held for them, that they are missed when they don’t come to the table, that we go up to their room, knock on the door and help them to the table if they need the assistance – that people look up and say ‘Good morning’ when that person enters the dining room – all this nourishes a spirit of healing that is impossible to find words for – but it is palpable.”

Cutting Costs/Maintaining Cuisine, Care
Joseph's HouseIt’s nice to know that the funds BC/EFA provides Joseph’s House are spent on food that’s not only nutritious, but, in many cases, mouth-watering.

“In 2008 and 2009, your grant funds were used to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables; staples such as flour, cooking oil, spices, and sugar; beverages such as coffee, juices, and milk; meats such as roasts, chicken, and pork; seafood such as crab legs (a real favorite of residents!) and trout,” Wudel says, listing just a few of the items purchased with Food Service Grant dollars.

And, in these challenging times, Joseph’s House is embracing an austerity plan to make sure these delicious meals continue. This short- and long-term plan includes “significant, voluntary adjustments by staff that will reduce costs while maintaining service and avoid immediate staff layoffs,” she says.

For example, early in 2009, some staff members chose to take salary reductions of up to 40%, while others opted to forego health insurance, or to work more hours for the same level of compensation.

Meanwhile, Wudel and the Joseph’s House board have been meeting with local government officials and elected representatives to seek restoration of (previously cut) grant funds and to identify alternative sources of funding, she explains, adding that efforts also are underway to increase the facility’s online fundraising.

“We are committed to our cause and we’re willing to do what it takes to make sure that Joseph’s House survives this economic downturn,” Wudel says. “Our patients need us, now more than ever, and we want to be around for a long time.”

For more on Joseph’s House, visit their website athttp://www.josephshouse.org/

Read More: Mack: One Life at Joseph’s House