You do not have to look very far to find a homeless person in Chattanooga. Each night, four to five-hundred individuals sleep outside or in shelters; many of them families. Tonight, though, a special group of college students is making an impact in the local homeless community in a very unexpected way.
Many homeless Chattanoogans have only one option to get around. "90 percent of my day is walking," said James Flanagan. "I average maybe 10 miles a day." He explained, "If you have the right footwear it's not bad, but I've had bad luck. This is my 4th pair of shoes since I've been here."
It is a lifestyle Flanagan says he does not want, but severe depression leaves him with fewer choices. "I've lived on and off the streets for a lovely 15 years," he said. "I feel shameful. It's embarrassing." He continued, "How people look at me. That bothers me more than the wetness or the cold, or being too hot."
Three days a week, he feels a servant's heart through hands of healing. "The smiles they give, that's a plus for me," Flanagan admits. "That really helps."
A group of UTC nursing students scrub away the dirt, from head to toe, massage out the hours of walking while looking for signs of potential illness. "We see a lot of blisters, calluses, and we're able to take care of them," said Amber Gullett.
"Does this person have gout, Community Kitchen Executive Director Jens Christensen explained, "do they have pre-diabetic symptoms, perhaps high blood pressure.?"
Gullett could be out with friends, but through this program, she now knowsFlanagann matters to this world. "These people are on their feet all day," she added. "They walk and walk."
What the students are doing goes deeper than a foot rub and further than just college credit. "Most people have a fear of homeless folks, said Christensen. "They think that they're somehow bad and to be coming here and receiving this compassion and care, it's a very different level of treatment."
"I think it's probably my favorite part of nursing school so far," Gullett said, "that we are able to make an immediate difference and make people feel better."
It is a sign of respect to those who rarely get to see a stranger's smile. "Well, they care," said Flanagan. "They also listen to your story about your situation and they respond very nicely with respect." He continued, "You go in there with a low spirit and come out with a high spirit."
The nursing students take care of 25 to 30 individuals, three times a week. Everything used on foot care in the Community Kitchen is donated by members of the community. They always need clean socks to give out to the homeless after their feet are washed. If you would like to donate or learn more about the Community Kitchen, click here.