Homeless people in Leeds ‘walking on air’ after health intervention

Andrew Omond at St George's Crypt, in Leeds. Picture by Jonathan Gawthorpe.

Andrew Omond at St George's Crypt, in Leeds. Picture by Jonathan Gawthorpe.

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Cold weather and a bout of flu are some of the things you can come to expect in Yorkshire during the winter.

But for homeless and destitute people in Leeds and beyond, a lack of access to traditional health care and over exposure to the elements can mean common colds escalating to full-blown pneumonia.

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As we wrap up warm and steer clear of the chills as much as possible, some of the most vulnerable in society are facing a myriad of health issues while ignoring most of them.

One area that often goes unnoticed and untreated is the feet. Every lump, bump and pain is one to add to the list.

At homelessness charity St George’s Crypt, in Leeds, there are almost 2,000 unique visitors every year – some who have been evicted from their homes and others who have spent years on the streets.

Working with Leeds Community Healthcare Trust (LCH), the charity recently helped 23 people access podiatry and receive foot care kits as part of the Walking on Air initiative.

“Foot problems can build and build but they don’t pay attention to them,” said Andrew Omond, who works at St George’s Crypt. “Our guys pick up a bump, and it’s a bump – they just walk on.”

Service users were given essential early treatment, basic education on foot care as well as kits including soap, socks and clippers.

It comes after the charity hosted an event that saw 43 service users have flu jabs and before that oral cancer checks that saw two people referred to specialists.

Mr Omond explained that many service users simply don’t trust GPs or the NHS in general, particularly in clinical settings, meaning bringing services direct to the Crypt can bridge that health care gap and establish trust.

He added: “You might get something small in the first instance but if it’s not treated it can grow and grow and that’s the problem with our client base – they don’t get help in the first instance.”

The Walking on Air initiative, named following comments made by satisfied service users, will also visit city-based charities the Joanna Project, The Refugee Service and York Street Health Practice to support other vulnerable groups.

Its foot care packs are funded by the Leeds Community Healthcare Charity, which provides additional funding to enhance NHS care.

Lynda Dexter, specialist podiatrist at LCH, said: “This is about starting a conversation with vulnerable people in our city, so they know where to go for further help and support for this and other health issues.”

Coun Bill Urry, Leeds City Council’s homelessness lead, said the scheme supports its aim to boost the health of the city’s poorest the fastest.

Homelessness concerns in Yorkshire

More than 26,000 calls were made to councils in Yorkshire and the Humber in the past year from people worried about becoming homeless.

The figures, revealed by Shelter last week, show that the figure has risen by 54 per cent in the past five years.

In the last year, more than 3,000 households in the region ultimately lost their struggle and were made officially homeless.

Shelter has said they are facing even more calls over the festive period. Visit shelter.org.uk for information.

Hardwick Hall.

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