Email this articleE-mail this story  Discuss this articleWrite letter to editor  Discuss this articleOrder a classified ad  Print this page

A touch of care

Dorothy Westerman
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Dec 16/05) - Yellowknife's homeless don't get much personalized care.

But a foot hygiene program at the Salvation Army, makes life a bit kinder and better for men without a home.

Sitting with his cold worn feet in a pan of warm soothing water Wednesday evening, one homeless man was very pleased.

"I like it. Us people on the streets, it helps us out," he said.

"It is comforting. I appreciate it very, very much."

Major Glenda MacKenzie of the Salvation Army said they are always seeking volunteers for the program.

"It can be very disturbing to see the condition of some of these peoples' feet," she said.

"But the good side of this is that those doing the foot washing are spotting foot problems."

Mike Goerzen, a fourth-year nursing student at Aurora College, said he and student Candace Balmer, had the idea for the program after attending a course at the Salvation Army last winter.

Goerzen goes to the Salvation Army each Wednesday evening and serves supper to the men and then washes the feet of anyone who requests foot care.

Although the number of participants varies, he said about 13 homeless have their feet washed on a regular basis.

"The population has taken hold of this," Balmer said.

"They are not used to being important or being in a relationship where they are receiving something," Goerzen said.

During the foot cleansing, "there's a lot that goes on other than washing their feet," he said.

You get both their life story and their health story."

Problems such as trench foot, fungal infections and very long toenails can be identified.

We educate them about how to take care of them, but we don't actually do that kind of care," he said.

"It's been amazing to see a guy with feet in really bad shape, then after about three weeks of the program, to see their feet get better," he said.

"There is a real health promotion part to it. On the other side, there is a real caring opportunity for these guys to feel they are not at the bottom of everything all the time.

"Both of these aspects have made it really successful for both the guys that use it and for the volunteers we have," Goerzen said.

Jill Christensen, a volunteer, said working on feet is a "humbling" experience and opens the door to talk about other issues.

"What we are really hoping in the future is that we can have a physician here with us so he can do a referral right there," Christensen said.

Julie Gould-Benreddad, community ministries coordinator with the Salvation Army, said it is powerful to see the volunteers work with homeless men.

"The atmosphere changed dramatically in the way of acceptance.

"The guys sit down and start chatting now. The good thing about it is that the volunteers are health professionals so they get to recommend.

"I think the program will grow into something more," Gould-Benreddad said.

To complement the foot washing program, a sock drive at Aurora College collected 405 pairs of socks.

The program also received a $300 donation from the college union and a donation of equipment from Med Ex, a medical supply company, said Goerzen.

"Foot hygiene tends to strike a chord with people and it's nice to have an issue that people can identify with.

"You can see that you are doing something where nothing was being done," he said.

"It's like you are doing something that's making a difference right then and right there."