Under the leadership of Russ Porter, the foot care clinics have grown from a seminal initiative begun in 1988 by a resident physician and a couple of nurses to a sustained effort by more than 100 people providing foot care to more than 1200 homeless men and women. Porter has personally recruited as volunteers, podiatrists, nurses, medically trained persons and others to keep the many clinics adequately staffed.
In addition to coordinating the efforts of volunteers, Porter secures funding support from organizations, businesses, churches and friends, and stretches dollars by finding good buys on shoes, socks, towels and medical supplies.
Porter retired from GE in 1993 with a vision of growing the capabilities of the foot care clinics. From his experience with the clinics as a volunteer helper, Porter saw that there was a great need for foot care, as well as just plain caring, among the homeless in Cincinnati. He wanted the clinics to extend care to more people, but he also wanted to do more. From that beginning, Porter set out to find resources and match care teams to sites, such as the Drop Inn Center, where care could be given. In 2001-2002 clinic sites include the Drop Inn Center, Bethany House, Our Daily Bread, Tender Mercies, 2nd Mile Hospitality, Mt. Airy Shelter, Pike Street Clinic (CVG) and Hosea House (Newport).
Nurses, podiatrists and specially trained volunteers provide foot care. As homeless persons are frequently over looked or ignored, Porter reminds volunteers to make a special effort to talk and listen as they care for each person. Many people coming to our clinics have never received foot care, many suffer from skin or nail conditions related to their lives on the streets and in shelters, and many have well-worn, poorly fitting shoes (some have no shoes!).
Each person receiving care is greeted and asked to soak their feet in warm, soapy water for 10-15 minutes. A caregiver will first introduce her/himself to the “patient” and then ask him/her about medical conditions (e.g. diabetes can affect peripheral circulation, causing sores or loss of sensation). Following an examination of the feet, nails will be trimmed, calluses reduced and skin treated (fungal infections are common). On occasion a volunteer podiatrist will work on unusually difficult or severe conditions. The caregiver will finish up by applying lotion and/or powder and providing a clean pair of socks. The person is then fitted for a pair of new shoes.
The obvious part of foot care is the feet. But a very important part of care is the conversation that occurs casually between the person receiving care and the person giving care. The one-to-one human contact with caring in touch and conversation is healing for both the giver and receiver. Porter, who has become expert in giving care, enjoys chatting with our homeless friends and reminds us of the importance of just taking time to listen. Porter wants us to care for people, not just do foot care. The appreciative comments, or simply the smiles of people leaving the clinic show that the message of caring has been heard and felt by each person served.
Another obvious part of foot care is shoes and socks. Each person receiving care is given socks and a sound pair of new shoes. Needless to say this is a major attraction, as the feet are the main transportation for homeless persons. As good shoes on hurting feet is not foot care, shoes are not given without care being given first.
Many volunteers are involved in the foot care clinics, but Porter is the lead conductor in this well orchestrated operation. He recruits volunteers, marshals supplies, finds clinic sites and publishes schedules. From October through April each year, volunteers invest more than 3000 hours under Porter’ leadership. Obviously, Porter spends a lot of his own time as coordinator overall, on-site leader, shoe procurer and promoter. Porter spends several evenings each week as on-site facilitator/leader. Additionally, he does whatever needs to be done including washing mountains of towels, cleaning instruments, and bringing coffee and cookies to serve to clients.
Porter gives freely of himself and has inspired and enabled many of the rest of us to care for the homeless in our community. Porter is truly an extraordinary person as is demonstrated by the loyalty and respect of his many volunteers and his clients who frequently refer to him as the “Foot Doc.”