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GRASS VALLEY, Calif. February 5, 2019 – His cancer has spread. It’s in his blood; it’s in his bones; it’s everywhere. Scott Wirtz, affectionately known as Scooter, will live out the rest of his days intermittently homeless with stage 4 prostate cancer.
Wirtz has lived in Grass Valley for approximately 18 years, 13 of them in a mobile home he owned. He admittedly has struggled with substance abuse, but noted that even with addiction, he has never once stolen from anyone. He stands by his integrity and identifies as a protector, always willing to help someone in need.
“At one point I gave an older lady my bedroom and I slept on the couch,” he recalled, noting his home was frequented by those seeking sanctuary from the harsh conditions of street life. Such decisions, however, coupled with his addiction, led to his eventual eviction. In time, he found himself without a home and nowhere to go … but Hospitality House was there.
Hospitality House is the only emergency homeless shelter in Nevada County, and Wirtz learned about the non-profit organization through friends who stayed at his home. “Part of our philosophy at Hospitality House is to never give up on someone,” explained Joe Naake, Hospitality House’s street outreach manager. “The door is open, and as long as you’re willing to walk through it, we’ll be there on the other side.”
While Wirtz has never stayed in the shelter for a fixed duration, mainly due to struggles with his sobriety, Hospitality House still extended him its services beyond food and shelter. He was assigned a case manager, Fred Skeen, and he also works with Naake. His social worker, Jeffrey Wanzer-Dupra of Nevada County Behavioral Health, and others on the Behavioral Health team have also been instrumental in helping Wirtz get back on track.
“I love Hospitality House,” said Wirtz. “It’s a major blessing. I love the people there—the people who work there, who volunteer—they’ve been a part of my heart. Jeffrey (from Behavioral Health) is like Clark Kent. I love him deeply.”
Hospitality House and Behavioral Health collaborate to help those in need, and Hospitality House is even in the process of expanding its dormitories to include recuperative and low barrier care, so individuals recovering from hospital visits or struggling with sobriety can get the services they need to recover.
“We’re all on the same team,” explained Skeen. “It’s not just Hospitality House out there helping Scooter. Jeffrey, Joy and Casey from Behavioral Health have all been heavily involved in Scooter’s journey. This is truly a community effort amid several caring organizations.”
Unfortunately, not all stories have happy endings. In working with Wirtz, it was revealed in recent weeks that he’s terminally ill. He was diagnosed with stage 4 prostate cancer and was given anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to live. He has since bounced between hospital visits, Hospitality House, assisted living centers and motels, with no place to truly call home.
“You opened a room for me,” said a tearful Wirtz to Naake. “You opened your arms for me. You never ever turned me away.”
Wirtz is temporarily living in a motel today, but Hospitality House and Behavioral Health are working together to move him this week into Wolf Creek Care Center, a skilled nursing facility where he can comfortably receive hospice treatment. Sadly, helping someone through their end of life illness is a calling Hospitality House does compassionately almost every year, ensuring those in need have an opportunity to die with dignity, and not on the streets alone.
Wirtz accepts that his days are limited. He’s in chronic agony and struggles to walk, but through it all, he’s doing his best to embrace the positive. “The Lord has turned everything around for me,” he explained. “My life is so complete. I’m not afraid—there will be no pain. I will be in Heaven with my mom, my dad and my sister. I will be at peace … playing my music.”
Along with his faith, Wirtz is also celebrating a recent reunion with his son—who, until recently, he hadn’t seen in over 10 years. His son is newly married, and along with his wife, traveled from out of state to visit.
“I’m so proud of my son,” said Wirtz through tears. “They dropped everything and came to see Dad. They made me that important. To come and be with me. I just melted. They made my life complete. I never thought I’d be so proud to have a beautiful family.”
Reconnecting with his son has meant everything to Wirtz, but he’s also come to realize that he’s had a second family all along.
“We love Scooter,” said Skeen. “We will be his family until the very end.”