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Volunteers bathe feet of homeless

By Anne Jones
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, January 29, 2009

SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE - Some men who use the Salvation Army's foot-washing service haven't seen their feet for a month, according to the shelter's director.

Julie Gould-Benreddad, director of community services and homeless shelter for men, said when the service first began, volunteers “had to soak the feet so that the socks could be cut off,” because they had grown into the skin.

NNSL Photo/Graphic

Volunteers Jill Christensen and Candace Balmer wash the foot of a homeless man in the foot washing program at the Salvation Army in December 2005. - NNSL file photo

Volunteers have set up washing stations Wednesday nights to bathe the feet of homeless men and women who use the organization's soup kitchen.

The foot-washing program stems from a sock exchange started by student nurses from Aurora College. Homeless men would come to the Salvation Army to exchange their well-worn socks for new ones. “Some of the socks see as much wear in a couple of days as socks see in a year on me or you,” said Gould-Benreddad.

During the sock exchange, volunteers noticed people's feet were in bad condition, with lesions and open wounds. Gould-Benreddad would refer the patrons for medical care, which she said eventually prevented the need to amputate some frostbitten feet.

The foot-washing service began in November 2005. Gould-Benreddad said during the washing the homeless men and women relax and get comfortable enough with the volunteers to share what else is ailing them.

“It opens up more opportunities for bonding and accessing health care,” she said.

There is enough traffic to sustain the service two nights a week, but Gould-Benreddad said expanding "isn't feasible,” and “funding is a struggle.”

Since the service began, she said incident reports have gone down and personal hygiene and sleeping conditions have improved because the smell is better.

“It increases self worth,” said the director, who hopes that it will give more men and women the confidence to seek employment.

Some people “don't want to walk into a job interview because the feet smell so bad that even a doctor is taken aback,” Gould-Benreddad said.

The foot-washing service bathed 493 pairs of feet in 2008, up from 370 in 2007. The Salvation Army has also brought in a nurse practitioner once a week, so patrons can come back on Mondays to be treated.

The Salvation Army welcomes volunteers for the foot-washing program and donations of socks.