Outreach podiatry program cares for the feet of people Melbourne’s homeless, and provides ‘gateway’ to other services

Released on 6th March 2022

When people are sleeping rough they rely on their feet a lot. Yet rough sleepers, and people in other forms of marginal accommodation, have the least opportunity to clean and care for their feet, or access specialists to treat foot problems. cohealth’s street-based podiatry program is responding. 

A paper published in the Journal of Foot and Ankle Research has examined cohealth’s street-based podiatry program, shedding light on the ravaging impacts of homelessness on people’s feet, and the vital role of publicly funded, community podiatry services. 

The research paper, Responding to foot health needs of people experiencing homelessness: the role of a publicly funded community-based podiatry service’ suggests that footcare can be the ‘gateway’ to getting someone connected to other services, such as housing support, drug and alcohol treatment and mental health care. 

Co-authored by La Trobe University and cohealth, the paper examined the client data of cohealth’s free Melbourne podiatry service for people experiencing homelessness.  

The analysis reveals the most common issues experienced were skin and nail pathologies (68 per cent), biomechanical issues (51 per cent) and acute foot wounds (44 per cent). Fifty-two per cent of people treated by the cohealth podiatry team had inadequate footwear and nearly 1-in-5 (18 per cent) required acute wound care.  

cohealth’s specialist podiatrists reach out to Melbourne’s homeless on CBD streets and in rooming houses, as well as treating people at cohealth’s Central City clinic, embedding themselves in cohealth’s broader homelessness services.  They treat nearly 300 people each year, nearly half of whom are people who sleep rough, and 1-in-3 who are living in unstable housing such as crisis accommodation and rooming houses.  

Poor quality footwear, exposure to the elements, and substandard living conditions can lead to a litany of foot problems among homeless clients, says cohealth outreach podiatrist, Rebecca Mannix.  

“When you’re sleeping rough or cycling through rooming houses it’s hard to keep feet clean and dry. People often don’t have access to basic podiatric items such as clippers, and problems snowball quickly,” Rebecca said.  

“Having flexible, adaptable services that are designed with clients is really important so that they get the healthcare they need quickly and not wait until problems become emergencies,” said Rebecca. 

cohealth says that free community-based podiatry services that use an outreach model are vital to improving the overall health of people who are without a secure home.  

“Without our podiatry service and outreach model, a great many of our clients would suffer with painful feet, whilst their feet are their only way of getting around,” she said.   

“A key feature of the community health model is that we can help people with other issues beyond the service they may be presenting for,” said Rebecca. 

 “Everyone has the right to live free of pain, and to have access to high-quality health care.”  


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More on cohealth: 

cohealth is one of Australia’s largest not-for-profit community health organisation that strives to improve health and wellbeing for all.  cohealth provides universal access to services as well as targeted programs and assertive models to address the health disparities experienced by disadvantaged groups. cohealth offers a broad range of high quality, integrated health and support services, including medical, oral, pharmacy, mental health and drug and alcohol services. 

more information:  Lanie Harris 0418 552 377  lanie.harris@cohealth.org.au 

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