Photo courtesy of Christ House
Volunteer Voices is written by Sarah Katz-Hyman. Sarah is a student at University of Maryland and lives in College Park.
This column will focus on service organizations in D.C. – what they do, their history and how you can volunteer. If you know of any service agencies in D.C. or have a place where you regularly volunteer, please share in the comments below and they could be featured in this column.
This week’s organization is Christ House located at 1717 Columbia Rd NW, Washington, DC 20009.
What They Do:
Christ House provides 24-hour medical care to sick, homeless men and women in D.C. Christ House is a medical recovery facility, which means it fills a gap in the health care system for homeless men and women who are not sick enough to be in a hospital but too sick to be in a shelter or on the street. Located in Adams Morgan, Christ House has capacity for 34 patients, sees between 240-270 admissions a year, and in its 28-year history has seen over 7,500 admissions. In 2012 the average length of stay for a patient was 42 days, which was up from 39 days in 2011. Christ House has seen its length of stay steadily increase over time. Staff members point to several causes of this increase including patients being sicker and the lack of good discharge options (particularly the lack of affordable housing). The main illnesses Christ House sees are hepatitis C, cancer, injuries related to exposure (frostbite and burns), diabetes, assault-related injuries, heart and kidney disease, and HIV/AIDS. In addition to medical care, Christ House has many support services for patients including meals, patient activities, case management, and addiction services. The overarching goal at Christ House is that patients will leave with their health stabilized and with the education and tools necessary to manage their illnesses. The further goal is that physical, mental, and emotional improvements will allow patients to live independently in the community and break the cycle of homelessness. Christ House is funded through a combination of grants from private foundations, contributions from individual donors, churches, and other community organizations, and government grants and contracts.
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Christ House was founded on Christmas Eve in 1985. Eleven years earlier, Allen and Janelle Goetcheus, a United Methodist minister and physician, respectively, from Indiana, were in D.C. to get visas for an overseas medical mission. They saw the immense need for health care and the suffering of many homeless men and women and decided to change their plans and move to D.C. to help. While working at Columbia Road Health Services (located across the street from the abandoned building that would later become Christ House), they saw many homeless people being discharged early from hospitals and back to the streets just to become sicker. They saw a need for a place for homeless people to stay, rest, and fully recover, avoiding unnecessary repeat hospitalizations and suffering. Christ House was founded as part of a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to the city of Washington, D.C. to provide medical outreach to the homeless. In 1992, the Kairos Program was founded out of Christ House. This program provides former Christ House patients who have chronic illnesses and drug or alcohol addictions permanent housing in a structured community with weekly meetings, case managers, and opportunities to work or volunteer at Christ House. Currently there are 52 men in the program, and they live in two other buildings located nearby in the neighborhood. Since the Kairos Program’s inception, over 80 percent of participants have maintained sobriety. In the 28 years since Christ House opened it has never closed its doors – not for weather nor sequester—and has been open for almost 10,000 consecutive days.
How You Can Volunteer:
Christ House has between 280 – 300 volunteers each month helping with meals and phone services. Helping with meals consists of preparation, serving, and cleaning up after the meal. Christ House provides three meals a day to patients and men in the Kairos Program. Groups that wish to volunteer can also fund a meal or cook a meal and bring it in. Helping with phone service consists of answering the phones after hours including taking down information from doctors/medical providers and controlling entry access to Christ House. Though Christ House is a faith-based organization, there are no religious requirements for involvement, just a commitment to helping the homeless. Volunteers can’t be sick and need to be over 16 to work in the kitchen and over 18 to work the phones, but there are other projects available for students and younger children. If you are interested in volunteering please contact Dave Long, Director of Volunteers at [email protected] or 202-328-1100, ex.232. For more information, visit www.christhouse.org/volunteer.