Rocky Mountain Refuge Linking Homeless to Hospice Care

About five years ago, Brother James Patrick Hall heard from a friend doing chaplaincy care in the Denver area that she had come across a person who was dying in a dark hospital room, alone.

"She discovered that he was a homeless man," says the Gregorian friar. "She calls me and asks me, 'Where do homeless people die?'"

"'In alleys and streets and under bridges,'" he recalls telling his friend. "Basically, they die where they live. She said, 'That's terrible' and 'Nobody should die alone.' And that became our motto: 'No one should die alone.' We started meeting well over four and a half years ago. We've been working ever since."

Brother James Patrick and a handful of other individuals worked together to create Rocky Mountain Refuge, the first organization in Colorado solely focused on connecting people experiencing homelessness to hospice care.

Rocky Mountain Refuge will welcome its first resident today, March 3. The organization is using two rooms at a Denver Rescue Mission shelter called the Crossing, which is located at 6090 Smith Road.

"With Denver Rescue Mission's facility, it's just truly ideal for what we’re doing and them being interested and willing to engage with us. Really, all of the logistics were solved. Now all we need is money and people. That’s easy," says Mark Bell, one of the group's co-founders who now serves as board chair. In his day job, Bell works as a regulatory compliance consultant for small investment advisory firms.

"It's the same kind of care a family does. We are an extension of a person's family. Hospice care is designed to be in your home with your family assisting," says Brother James Patrick, an Episcopalian who serves in the Brotherhood of St. Gregory. Because he also works as a software administrator for a local health-care company, he refers to himself as bi-vocational. "Friars live in the world," he says. "My ministry has been with folks on the margins for many years."

The actual hospice care at the Rocky Mountain Refuge will be overseen by Denver Hospice and TRU Community Care Hospice;  the organization is also contracting with Bayaud Enterprises, an employment agency that works with indigent individuals and people with disabilities, to hire caregivers to provide the 24/7 monitoring needed for hospice residents. "Hospices are not shelters. They can't deal with this," says Brother James Patrick. "Shelters are not specialized to deal with this. This requires 24/7 care."

There are a handful of similar organizations scattered across the country, including the Inn Between in Salt Lake City, Welcome Home in Chattanooga, and Joseph's House in Washington, D.C. "I believe we will be the fourth one in the United States that is specifically for homeless people," says Brother James Patrick, who notes that this type of "social model hospice house" originally grew in response to the AIDS crisis in the 1980s.

Residents of Rocky Mountain Refuge will not pay for their care; the organization has a $230,000 annual operating budget right now, which will cover the $500 per day it will cost for one individual to receive hospice care. The Denver Rescue Mission is not charging for the rooms, and Brother James Patrick is serving as interim executive director on a volunteer basis.

"We’ve basically got about six months of operating funds in the bank. Yeah, we’re starting on a shoestring. But we really want to do this as conscientiously as we can. We want to have that six months set to go," says Bell.

And the organization's services are certainly needed: At least 269 people experiencing homelessness died in 2021, according to the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless.

Although the founders of Rocky Mountain Refuge are Christians, the organization's board has Jewish and Muslim representation, and all are welcome to use its services.

"We don't care about your gender, your orientation, your religion, your race, any of that. It doesn't matter. You come to us and we'll take care of you," Brother James Patrick says. "We want to make sure that the last few weeks that they spend in this world are as pleasant and dignified as we can make it."

Rocky Mountain Refuge will only take in people who are already under hospice care, which can be arranged quickly with either the refuge or another organization serving as the middle man. "The reason they can't come into our facility without being on hospice is because we can't provide any medical care. We provide what's known as custodial care," says Brother James Patrick. Hospice usually allows the person receiving care to stay at home — in this case, the Rocky Mountain Refuge.

"The shelters are aware of people already being sick," explains Brother James Patrick. "That's been the problem. They know who these folks are. They just have nowhere to take them. That's the whole reason we want to exist."

Logan Robertson recognizes that problem. He now serves as the pastor and director of After Hours Denver, a church and homeless ministry that meets at a different bar each Monday, including Don's, the Irish Rover, Cap City Tavern and Kinga's Lounge.  Back when Robertson worked at Haven of Hope, a day shelter for people experiencing homelessness in Denver, he encountered someone who was clearly in his last days.

"He was visiting Denver Health several times a month or even more than once a week, but there was just nothing there for him to transfer into. Denver Health needs the beds, you know, they’re a busy hospital, and the shelters don’t have that kind of setup for people," Robertson says. "And he was found one morning by a couple of other folks experiencing homelessness, and they tried to wake him up, and it turned out he had died." The man had passed away in a sleeping bag underneath an overpass at Sixth Avenue and Kalamath Street.

Robertson is a supporter of the Rocky Mountain Refuge's work and envisions providing some ministry services to the organization in the future. "I just think it’s profoundly meaningful," he says, "and it’s a huge step to have this in our community for folks who suffer from a lot of different kinds of disabilities and diseases who live pretty hard lives in most respects."

Click here to find out how to donate to Rocky Mountain Refuge.