Statistically, the homeless population is subject to more frequent incidence of illness and disease, as well as longer recovery times, than the non-homeless population. Even more, health conditions can often lead to homelessness – loss of jobs, lack of insurance, inability to recover in a safe environment; the list goes on and on. Accessible comprehensive health care is a critical need for those working to escape homelessness.
Since 1988, thanks to a collaborative grant effort between the Community Kitchen, the Hamilton County Health Department, and many others, the 700 Block of East 11th Street has been home to the Homeless Health Care Center (HHCC).
The Clinic, as we call it, offers on-site primary health care to anyone that is homeless. In addition, they operate VIP (Victory in Progress), an intensive outpatient alcohol and drug abuse program. Even more, they offer general and mental health case management. The clinic is operated by the Hamilton County Health Department and, being among the first of its kind in the United States, is a national model of success. For more information about the Homeless Health Care Center, see their website: Homeless Health Care Center.
When Brother Ron Fender, bsg, first came to the Community Kitchen in 2002, he brought a revolutionary idea with him. He wanted to further his own ministry by tending to the feet of the homeless. Naturally, the ministry aspect was clear, but soon after we realized just how significant this work could be medically.
Homeless folks spend an incredible amount of time walking; and they usually carry their belongings with them. Their feet suffer from all this walking, and the condition is complicated as they wear out their shoes. Brother Ron started this program by simply washing feet and clipping toenails; after tending to the feet, Ron would provide clean socks and a decent pair of shoes (when available). This simple act of compassion established a bond between the clients and Brother Ron that many others would never experience. One client fell into tears after Ron tended his feet. After regaining composure, he finally told Ron why he was crying; he said “this is the first time I can remember that someone has touched me in a non-threatening way.”
As the footcare ministry continued, Ron began to notice that many of the illnesses that homeless folks suffer are actually born in their feet. Whether it be gout or diabetes, or something else, by screening the feet, these diseases can be identified before they become disabling – they can be treated early.
Today, the footcare program has grown to include partnerships with podiatrists and nurses who volunteer their time to tend to the feet of our homeless clients; this program is so important to our services that we have dedicated an entire room just to meet these needs. The program also involves students from local nursing programs who serve on a weekly basis as a part of their college requirements.
In addition to our own services, and those of the Homeless Health Care Center, numerous area agencies have partnered in wellness services, offering general wellness, HIV testing, mammograms, blood tests and much more to our clients. We appreciate all community partnerships and are always interested in learning new ways to help serve the medical needs of our area’s homeless population.