While many Christian denominations see foot washing as a Holy Week rite of passage, Louisville’s Coalition for the Homeless sees it as an important service for the health and well-being of Louisville’s homeless population.
For the last four years, the Coalition has made foot washing part of the Stand Down/Project Homeless Connect event every October, said Natalie Harris, executive director of the Coalition.
“A big part of why we do it is just to do something good and kind for people who go through so much that day,” Harris said. “But we also know that homeless people really struggle with their feet. They’re are on the street, so a lot of times they’ll get frostbite, or they have diabetes. So they end up with a lot of problems with their feet because of that, and a lot of times that will get neglected, and they’ll get infections and problems with their feet. So it also gives us, you know, an opportunity to kind of lay some eyes on their feet and see how they’re doing so that we and get them help.”
Stand Down/Project Homeless Connect will take place from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 3, at the Salvation Army, 911 S. Brook St. The event includes booths from many area organizations to help the homeless get much-needed services, such as government-issued identifications, birth certificates, housing services, health care and more.
Those who come be met with volunteers who will help them assess what they need so that they don’t miss out on vital services. Those who need an ID will be able to get one paid for free, for example, instead of paying the usual cost of $4.
About 20 volunteers from the Louisville Apartment Association have collected 600 backpacks for the homeless community to hand out at Stand Down/Project Homeless Connect. The backpacks will be stuffing them with items such as tube socks, toothpaste, toothbrushes, blankets, sweatshirts, T-shirts and rain ponchos.
The Veteran’s Administration handles most of the volunteer coordination for the event, about 200 volunteers, Harris said. But the Coalition for the Homeless is coordinating the foot washing, which needs about 20 additional people.
“It’s also just an opportunity to give that kind of service and kindness to people who are on their feet all the time and struggling in our community,” Harris said. “You know, for some people in a biblical way, and for other people in just a compassionate way to help other people in the community.”
Foot washing volunteers do not need to stay for the entire event, she noted.
“We have actually had people come through, and we took them right to the hospital, their feet were so bad,” Harris said. “But in most cases, we would kind of get a look at it and give them advice on what they should do while they’re there. And they’re already here doing things like getting flu shots, eye checks, HIV tests and over-the-counter drugs. So, it gives us one more chance to help people out.”
Harris asked that people spread the word to homeless people that they may know. While most of Louisville’s homeless population is in the homeless system and known by local shelters, there are many who never use homeless services, so they may not know what’s available. Those are the people she’s especially hoping to reach.
Attendance to the Stand Down/Project Homeless Connect event has declined in recent years, and Harris said she hopes that is because people already have the services they need. “But we don’t want that to be because people don’t know about it,” she said.