Foot For Thought: The Importance Of Foot Health
A big problem for elder homeless men is shoes that are too small. Over 40% of homeless men wear shoes that do not fit, that are more than one size too large or too small for their feet. This leads to even bigger problems with serious consequences.
Martin has lived on the streets for the majority of the past decade.
Like most people experiencing homelessness, Martin’s feet are his only mode of transportation, taking him everywhere he needs to go—to get meals, to meet with his social worker, to visit the doctor, to connect with friends and to get to the shelter.
Martin and other clients of Haven Toronto experiencing homelessness walk on average 15 kilometres each day to receive the essential services they need to lead their daily lives. That’s the equivalent of almost 20,000 steps.
This much walking adds up to a long list of painful problems. Corns and calluses. Blisters and bunions. Infections and ingrown toenails. Swollen legs and feet. Nerve damage. And when the temperature drops, frostbite. For some, severe cases of frostbite or gangrene and diabetic neuropathy can even lead to amputation.
Foot conditions are highly prevalent among homeless individuals with up to two thirds reporting a foot health concern, approximately one quarter of individuals visiting a health professional, and one fifth of individuals requiring further follow-up due to the severity of their condition, according to a study by Dalhousie University.
Researchers found that more than 40 per cent of homeless men wear ill-fitting shoes, more than one size too large or too small for their feet. As they cannot afford their own footwear, they rely on donations which usually don’t fit them properly. Ill-fitting shoes can cause or exacerbate foot health problems.
It is an endless battle to maintain the health of one's feet while enduring life on the streets.
Days spent walking from one service to another in all kinds of weather, like rain, hail and snow, means footwear has a short life span. A pair of shoes that should last a few years, would only be adequate for a person experiencing homelessness for a few months or a season if they are lucky. Without a place to store belongings, it is exceedingly difficult to keep footwear and socks warm and dry, which leads to poor foot hygiene.
While the effects of the pandemic have meant an increase in the number of people who are living on the streets, so to have the cases of foot health concern. Last winter, a Toronto street nurse shared that she had treated more cases of frostbite in one week of that year than in the whole of the last four years she worked as a nurse.
For Martin, life on the streets took a detrimental toll on his foot health. When he visited Haven Toronto’s nurse for the first time, he was wearing a pair of boots that he had worn for the last two years. They had ripped at the toes, exposing his bare feet in socks with gaping holes in them. Martin had a serious infection and his foot had swollen so much that the nurse had to find an injury boot to fit while he was receiving care.
Luckily after months of treatment, Martin’s foot improved. Haven Toronto provided him with plenty of warm socks and a new pair of boots sized to his feet in order to maintain his foot health.