Rush doctors team with Lawndale shelter to care for feet of the homeless

More than 100 men and women, many of them regular visitors, lined up on Wednesday evening to get into a West Side homeless shelter.

Waiting for them inside were a few dozen doctors, medical students and hospital workers from Rush University Medical Center who were there to give free foot care and hand out shoes and boots for the winter.

While Chicagoans get ready for the brutal winter cold with heavy coats, hats, gloves and boots, the city’s homeless population is left with few options to stay warm and avoid dangerous health problems.

“These are almost like these invisible people,” Dr. Simon Lee, an orthopedic surgeon at Rush, said Wednesday at the shelter.

Lee and his colleagues were on their yearly visit to the overnight homeless shelter at Franciscan Outreach House in the Lawndale neighborhood.

The medical workers, all there as volunteers, performed health checks for various foot problems — frostbite, fungus, skin infections, blood clots, ulcers or fractures. After the checks, the men and women were handed a new pair of socks and either a pair of shoes or boots, whichever they preferred.

Doctors and medical students on Wednesday volunteered at Franciscan Outreach House, giving free foot exams and providing new socks and shoes to help the homeless men and women sleeping at the West Side shelter stay warm. | Nader Issa/Sun-Times

Lee said the focus is typically on finding a place to sleep at night during the winter so foot health can often be overlooked. Wet or cold feet can cause serious problems, so Lee started the effort 11 years ago after his friend in another city urged him to copy his idea.

Lee said there have been times over the years when he recognizes people from previous visits. While seeing a familiar face is welcome in other situations, he said it’s not always great to see the same person twice at the shelter.

“It’s nice and you make that connection, but you think about the circumstances of it,” he said. “They’re still coming here after all that time.”

Ed Jacob, the executive director of Franciscan Outreach, said the 170-bed shelter’s partnership with Rush has been key.

“We don’t have the resources to do this ourselves,” Jacob said.

The shelter’s effort with the hospital has lasted for the past 25 years. Other than the yearly foot checks, doctors and students at Rush go to the shelter once a week to provide general health care.

“Most of us take all of this for granted,” Lee said. “Coming here and doing this really grounds most of us.”

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