I clean the feet of men experiencing homelessness each and every day. Over the past seven months, the patients at Christ House have become special people in my life. Christ House opened in December 1985 as the first residential medical facility for people experiencing homelessness in the United States. As a 24 hour medical facility, the patients live at Christ House on average for 41 days, sometimes reaching upwards of a year.
I serve as a nursing assistant, and my day includes patient vital signs, wound care, foot care, laundry, housekeeping duties and more. Cracking jokes about pedicures, spa days and more, make this seemingly simple task of foot care all the more enjoyable. Exchanging humor and laughter with the patients throughout the day is one of the most enjoyable aspects of my day. There are histories of pain and suffering from many of our patients’ pasts, and laughter serves as a medicine throughout our halls.
On the evening of the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year, I gathered at a local D.C. church for a candlelit memorial service and vigil procession to honor the 45 men and women who died living on D.C. streets this past year. Repeated over and over again, I heard, “It is not enough to survive, we must all aim to thrive.” In a country as prosperous as ours, one should not die without the dignity of a home. I am committed to the idea that housing is the most basic form of healthcare, as a primary necessity in establishing and maintaining good health. The patients have changed my worldview and as each month passes, I appreciate more aspects of my own life that I once took for granted, such as a clean pair of socks and my warm bed at night.
The kinship created and fostered among patients and staff at Christ House are what makes it so unique. Soon after patient Mr. Steve comes to Christ House, he gives me the nickname “Jojo.” However, in the months of December and January, “Jojo” changes to “Pinky” because ‘My face immediately turns pink when I step outside’, according to him. Every few weeks, during a break from the wound care and foot care, I am able to take Mr. Steve to the local CVS to buy Ensure protein shakes. On our way, we stop at the local bodega for his cigarettes, something he knows “I do not advocate for.” He fills his bag with lollipops in order to meet the $10 minimum, something I also advocate against. While we are at CVS, I see a friend from the neighborhood and introduce her to Mr. Steve, as “my friend Mr. Steve.” As we are checking out, he notes that he wants to buy a new toothbrush, something that we provide at Christ House to the patients. I say to him, “We have plenty of toothbrushes at home.” As we walk home, at a snail’s pace, he says to me, “Thank you for calling Christ House home.” And I know that this small action of kinship had meant a lot to him. Eventually, after six months at Christ House, a space at a nursing home opens up for Mr. Steve, and his time to leave Christ House, his home, has come. He is nervous, and rightly so. He is afraid of the unknown. He tells me to take care of myself, and to say hi to my parents that he met when they visited. A few days go by, and the nursing station phone rings and Mr. Steve asks to speak with me and my coworker Sam. I answer the phone and hear Mr. Steve on the other line: “I told you I wouldn’t forget you, Jojo,” as he proceeds to quiz us on history trivia as he had done the past few months. And we both know he will be alright.
Patients like Mr. Steve have shown me the importance of kinship, and becoming one with the people we serve. The daily interactions of my work have deepened my compassion and empathy. I celebrate the highs and lows in our patients’ lives, and share many deep conversations and eye-opening revelations with the men who live at Christ House. I will never forget their abundant lessons, advice and friendship. #EndHomelessness