Living with a terminal illness while homeless
If you’re homeless and living with a terminal illness you might worry about getting the care you need. It’s important that health workers understand your situation and that you know about the care choices that are open to you.
On this page:
St Mungo’s Broadway (020 8762 5500) is a charity that can offer a place to stay, and supports homeless people who are ill.
Dying Matters helps people to speak openly about dying and to plan ahead so that their wishes are carried out.
These two organisations have a leaflet called My Life, My Choices (PDF), which has lots of useful information for anyone affected by homelessness and terminal illness.
Shelter provides information for anyone living on the streets, from staying safe to getting legal advice. It can also give you information on dealing with your local council or health and social care trust in Northern Ireland, including how to register as homeless and get on a priority housing list. You’ll need to visit the right site for your area:
- Shelter Cymru , 0845 075 5005*.
- Shelter England , 0808 800 4444.
- Shelter Northern Ireland , 028 9024 7752.
- Shelter Scotland , 0808 800 4444.
The Marie Curie Support Line on 0800 090 2309 can give information and support to anyone affected by a terminal illness. Homeless UK offers a useful search feature on its website that can help you track down services near you, like day centres, hostels and local council advice.
If you’re staying in temporary accommodation like a hostel it could be possible to be cared for there or maybe you’d prefer to stay at a hospice, care home or hospital. You’ll need to be referred by a doctor or district nurse for some of these so it’s important to register at your local GP surgery as soon as possible. Your social worker, local council or health and social care trust in Northern Ireland may also be able to help.
You can use a friend’s place, a day centre or other temporary address to register with a doctor. You can call into your local surgery to register. To find your nearest, visit HSCNI (Northern Ireland), NHS 24 (Scotland), NHS Choices (England) or NHS Direct (Wales).
If you’re homeless or might become homeless, the council or health and social care trust in Northern Ireland may be able to arrange housing or access to emergency housing while you’re on a waiting list. In this case it might possible to be cared for at home with the support of social services, your doctor or hospice services. You should approach your local council to ask for assistance. Shelter, Citizens Advice Bureau or your local law centre may be able to help you make an application for emergency housing.
In your hostel
If you’re living in a hostel you might prefer to stay there while you’re being cared for. The staff may be able to arrange for you to remain there with advice from healthcare workers. A member of staff, a health worker or someone you know may be able to spend time with you or help you with appointments if you like.
In a hospice
Marie Curie Hospices specialise in caring for people living with a terminal illness. Along with managing symptoms they offer counselling and other therapies to help you be more comfortable.
Hospice care is free but you will need to be referred by your doctor or district nurse. Hospice UK can help you find other hospices in your area.
In a care home
It’s also possible to be cared for in a care or nursing home. They have trained staff that can look after you day and night and often have access to specialist palliative care teams. Your local council or health and social care trust in Northern Ireland will cover the cost of a care home if you have little savings or are on a low income, or if you have healthcare needs, the NHS may cover the cost.
In a hospital
Hospitals have palliative care teams that work with regular hospital staff to make sure that your needs are met. You may also be able to spend time here if you’re waiting for a transfer to a care home or hospice.
It can be comforting to get in touch with friends and family even if you haven’t been in contact for a long time. This can give you a chance to tell them about your illness in your own way and avoid the shock that family and friends might go through if they learn about your death later on.
If you find this difficult, Relate (0300 100 1234) may be able to offer help with relationship counselling.
If you’re having trouble finding your friends and family, the Salvation Army can help you find them. You can call it 0845 634 4747* for more information.
Help for family and friends after a death
Family and friends can struggle with their feelings after someone close dies. Grief is a natural process that’s different for everyone and it can take time to pass. Marie Curie has lots of information that may help people to cope during this difficult time.
It’s important to let the people around you and those involved in your healthcare know how you want to be cared for ahead of time. This can stop delays in getting the treatment that you need so that you’re as comfortable as possible.
Planning your care
Planning ahead lets you decide how you would like to be cared for and who you want to be involved. This can be written down in a document and can include information like:
- what you want to happen
- what you don’t want to happen
- who’ll speak on your behalf
- how you would like to be remembered
You can find out more in our planning your care in advance section.
Power of Attorney
You can set up a Power of Attorney so that if you become too ill to make decisions, another person can make them for you. This should be a person you know and trust.
Depending on the type of Power of Attorney, they can make decisions about your finances or your healthcare or both.
Some legal professional may be able to help you do this for free or at a reduced cost:
- Bar Pro Bono Unit , 020 7092 3960 (England and Wales)
- Free Legal Services Unit , 013 1260 5689 (Scotland)
- The Law Society of Northern Ireland , 028 9023 1614
It may be difficult to think about but planning ahead can make sure that you’re remembered how you want to be. It can also give you a chance to pass along some things that meant a lot to you.
There may be some things that you’d like friends or family to have, even if you don’t feel like you have much to pass on. A Will can be as simple as signing a note in front of a friend but it’s best if you ask a legal professional to do it for you. Marie Curie’s legacy advisers can help you with making a free Will.
You may be uncomfortable about the idea of planning your own funeral but it lets you make sure that you’re remembered how you want to be. It can also be a time for friends and family to get together and celebrate your life.
There are some costs around a funeral which the local council or health and social care trust in Northern Ireland may be able to help with if there isn’t enough money. Sometimes, they will take responsibility for the funeral, so it can help to let someone close to you know your wishes so they can be carried out.
This page is for general information only. It's not intended to replace any advice from health or social care professionals. We suggest that you consult with a qualified professional about your individual circumstances. Read more about how our information is created and how it's used.
*Calls are free from landlines and mobile phones. Your call may be recorded for quality and training purposes.
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