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New facility is first in Wisconsin to serve homeless people with terminal illnesses

Solace Home is open to homeless adults with less than 6 months to live

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ranch-style home in Madison has ramp in front for accessibility
Solace Home in Madison is open to homeless adults with terminal illnesses. The four-bed facility is pictured on Tuesday, April 23, 2024. (Sarah Lehr/WPR)

A new facility in Madison aims to help people die with dignity, even when they can’t afford a home. 

The four-bed residential facility officially opened this week, as the first of its kind in Wisconsin.

Solace Home is open to adults who have less than six months to live, and who are dealing with homelessness or housing insecurity.

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Solace Home staff will help with non-nursing level tasks, like feeding, bathing and basic wound care, said the home’s Executive Director Kendra Deja.

“We have trained our staff and volunteers extensively to be ready for the unique needs of this population,” Deja said. “So they received training in things like trauma and mental illness and substance abuse.”

Additionally, Solace Home is partnering with four hospice agencies, who are providing care, including pain management and bereavement services.

Residents will choose from among those providers — Agrace, Heartland Hospice, Interim HealthCare of Madison, and SSM Health at Home Wisconsin — for their end-of-life care.

Rachel Nalwa, a hospice manager for SSM Health at Home, said the goal is to help fill a gap.

“Over the course of my 20 years of providing hospice services to community members, I have all too often seen patients who are dying not have a place to go,” Nalwa said. “Just this year, I met a young person in their 30s experiencing homelessness while also dying. Where could that person go and die comfortably and with dignity?”

Solace Home’s operating budget is about $500,000 a year, said spokesperson Stephanie Marquis.

Dane County contributed $200,000 to open the facility, and Solace Home also received donations from individuals, businesses and faith-based organizations, Marquis said.

While some residents may help cover a portion of their expenses using an insurance plan or a monthly income source, Marquis said no one will be turned away because of inability to pay.

Solace Home is now licensed by Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services as an adult family home, and its first residents could move in this week, Deja said.