WATCH: As Victoria’s homeless population continues to increase, there’s growing demand for services and some can make the difference between life and death. Tess van Straaten reports.
Living on the street takes a toll — physically and mentally — and spending your days in search of food and shelter is especially hard on your feet.
"I've been walking around since early this morning so they're sore," Raven James says.
For James and others who are homeless, the wear and tear — particularly at this time of year — can lead to some serious health issues.
"Feet and teeth are the two things that can lead to long-term illness," explains Our Place Society's Grant McKenzie. "A lot of times when people are on the street they don't have access to laundry facilities so sometimes they're wearing wet, mouldy socks for a long time."
But some of Greater Victoria's most vulnerable residents are getting some much-needed foot care thanks to the feet first program at Our Place.
As part of a "curriculum of care," fourth-year University of Victoria nursing students are providing foot hygiene services to the homeless.
"They love it and we have people that come back regularly every week," says UVic nursing student Julia Wiewiorowski. "We know people on a first name basis."
The student nurses come twice a week from September until November and since the program started in 2008, the student nurses have treated thousands of feet.
On Monday morning, they marked a major milestone with Raven James, who has the distinction of being the 5,000th foot they've treated.
"It's been a lot of real dignity that they're bringing to the people on the street," McKenzie says. "Having that healthy touch, someone's hands on your feet, there's almost a spiritual side to it."
More than 100 nursing students have taken part in the program so far and they say it's a great way to learn new skills while making a difference.
"It's nice to be in a practicum where you can give back and many of us haven't been in an environment like this so we're learning as well and I feel the skills we've learned here are going to take us very far in our future nursing practice," Wiewiorowski says.
For James and others in need, it's a step in the right direction.
"It's very helpful," says James. "My feet feel better already!"