The original Family House location at 50 Irving Street in San Francisco

Out of a desire to provide family-centered care in partnership with UCSF, the vision of Family House founders was to provide free housing and basic needs for the families of seriously ill young patients.

Childhood cancer is relatively rare; about 16,000 cases are diagnosed in the United States each year. But when it does strike, it turns a family’s life upside down. The diagnosis of cancer in a child is incredibly distressing for everyone in the family. It creates an instant need to do everything possible to help the child.

Childhood cancers are treated mainly at large medical centers such as the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital. As a result, parents must often travel long distances with their very sick children to receive care.

In the 1970s, Dr. Arthur Ablin, Head of Clinical Pediatric Oncology at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), was deeply concerned about the hardships faced by the families of children being treated for cancer. He noticed many of his young patients’ family members sleeping in their cars or in hospital waiting rooms, unable to pay for a hotel.

Before Family House was founded, many parents struggled to find temporary housing in San Francisco while their children were being treated at the UCSF hospital. For many, staying at a hotel or motel for the days, weeks or even months their child was hospitalized was well beyond their financial means.

“Family House was set up as cost-free place for families to stay, but also as a center based very much on communal experience, so these families could share with each other what they were going through,” Art said.

In 1981, Art and others raised nearly $500,000 to buy housing from the Mormon Church that sat adjacent to the UCSF Children’s Hospital (later UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital), with the intention of providing housing for patients’ families. The original Family House on Irving Street housed 10 patient families. In 2001, Family House acquired a second property nearby on 10th Avenue, serving a new total of 34 families each night. When the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital announced their move to Mission Bay, it became clear that in order to continue to provide the best care possible for our families, Family House would need to move, too. In 2016, the 80-bedroom Nancy and Stephen Grand Family House opened in Mission Bay, filled with amenities that the founders of the original Family House would approve of: communal kitchens and living spaces, laundry, parking, a fitness room, meditation room, and private courtyard. Most importantly, the new Family House is filled with the same love and compassion that has been the Family House hallmark since our opening in 1981.

Click here for a timeline of our 40 years of service or read the History of Family House book, filled with photos of those who helped bring us to where we are today.

Watch the video tribute to Family House co-founder Dr. Arthur Ablin