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A Step Forward For Elder Homelessness

The next time you see an elder homeless man, ask yourself, “How did they get there?” You can take the question to mean “how did they end up homeless” but we are thinking in simpler terms. How did they literally get to that place on the street, in the park, at the store, etc.? The answer is they most likely walked.

Research suggests elder homeless men walk an average of 15 kilometres a day including to meet with a social worker, visit the doctor and connect with friends. They also have to walk to and from the shelter, walk to get meals, and to get their mail. No home means no home delivery.

In most cases, transit is not an option as the cost of the fare exceeds their budget or the funds can be better used elsewhere. When faced with the choice, walking is easier than not eating but it comes at a price, like the toll it takes on their foot health and their overall wellbeing.

Days spent walking in all kinds of weather, especially rain and snow, mean footwear has a short life span. A pair of shoes that should last a few years often lasts mere months. That might help explain why 40 percent of people who are homeless wear shoes that are the wrong size – you take what you can get or can find. In theory, something is better than nothing.

While the effects of the pandemic have meant an increase in the number of people who are living on the streets, there are also increased cases of foot health concerns. A Toronto street nurse recently shared that she treated more cases of frostbite in just one week last winter than she did in the last four years combined.

Corns and calluses, blisters and bunions, and infections and ingrown toenails are common problems for elder homeless men whose chronic foot issues can be made significantly worse by diabetes.

A three-year study of 6900+ homeless patients with diabetes uncovered a prevalence of Charcot foot, diabetic foot ulcers, and lower extremity amputation. After 10 years of follow-up, 29 percent of participants had died. The majority of the deceased were older and male.

Why do people ignore their feet? They are right there, we tower over them, and yet we also overlook them.