May 12, 2014 at 11:27 PM

A Place And A People

By Sarah House

Dear Friends –

People often ask, perhaps you among them, what makes Sarah House what it is?  What is the unique quality that describes our work?  And a good answer is that, for the dying poor of Santa Barbara, Sarah House provides a place and a people.  And really, when you think about it, isn’t this exactly what all of us would want at the end of our lives?  A place and a people?

Sarah House provides a place.  Many of the men and women who come to live with us have not had a stable place to be.  Some have been in dire straits, living in a homeless shelter or “on the streets.”  Others have resided in small apartments, but often, in the chaos of illness and not enough help, these abodes were no longer refuges of comfort.

2013-08-12 12.27.45Stephen, the House Manager, drove over to Cottage to meet Carlene.  Sixty-five years old, she was on that day a patient in an old-fashioned four-bedroom ward on Sixth Central of the old hospital.  Before that, due to that situation which is often called “circumstances,” she had lived at Casa Esperanza.  Now what Carlene knew was that she had a terminal cancer and seemingly no place to go.  Can anyone among us imagine what it must be like to be told such devastating news with nowhere to turn?  “The doctor was just here.  He told me the truth.  He said I was going to die pretty soon.  I have no place to go.”  Slowly and phrase by phrase, Stephen described Sarah House right across the freeway.  “It’s a beautiful house and really a home, Carlene,” he said.   “And you will have your own room.  And just today right outside your patio door, the gardener planted some beautiful ferns in rich, moist earth.”  Right then and there, she smiled the sweetest smile and closed her eyes, pretending to see it.  “Rich, moist earth,” she mused.  “Right outside my bedroom door? Rich, moist earth….”  The next day Carlene moved into Sarah House; she had found her place.  It was in a house of kindness in a blue bedroom with a patio door through which she could step into a garden of rich, moist earth.  Carlene’s place.

Sarah House provides a people.  It has been said that the deepest need of mankind is to overcome the prison of his aloneness.  Through the front doors of Sarah House come many lonely people.  Some have been lonely their whole lives, yearning for someone they could not even name.  Others have had their loneliness thrust upon them by old age, illness and poverty.  You can see this in their faces, in the set of their eyes.  And you can hear it in the tentativeness of their voices.

2014-03-21 11.24.31Daniel was a lonely man.  A retired bookkeeper who still kept an eye on a few accounts, Daniel lived a solitary life in a small mobile home on the East Side of Santa Barbara.  Surrounded by piles of unresolved paperwork, dozens of plants in various stages of health, and every movie Jenifer Jones had ever made, Daniel spent his days crafting long, intelligent poems, deep with meaning and implication.  When he moved into his bedroom at Sarah House, he found exactly what he needed for those poems: an audience.  And so every night at some point during the evening meal, he would modestly acquiesce to someone’s request by agreeing to read “just one poem, just one, alright, maybe two.”  The Sarah House family, now his people, would put down their forks and cease their eating to listen attentively and always, always to clap.  Daniel would beam.  He had found his people.

We all need a place and a people.  Our very lives depend on this.  And our ability to have a Good Death depends on this maybe even more.  On behalf of the men and women who will come to live at Sarah House this year we ask, Where can they find a good place to spend their last days and lay down their heads on that last night?  Who will stand with them and let them know that they matter?  Where will be their place?  Who will be their people?

We ask again, humbly and with gratitude for past gifts, Will you please help us as we continue our care for the dying poor of our community?  Donations may be made right here on our website at

Posted in SHSB News.


To all the wonderful staff at Sarah House, words cannot express the gratitude I have for what you all did for my grandma and my entire family. You helped me look at death as a beautiful journey that grandma was on, it really helped us get through a very difficult time. I would not have wanted to be anywhere else but there in your serene environment. I feel very fortunate that we got to be there with her.