History and Background
The original 17 members of Happy Feet.
In 2008, the 17 members of UCLA PRIME's cohort 2 were challenged to create a community-based initiative that would address a real community need, add to the existing network of resources and services, and be sustainable. After several discussions and exploration of current community services, they developed Happy Feet UCLA PRIME Project to address the podiatric health concerns of the Los Angeles homeless community.
Why feet? Although the health of our feet can tell us a lot about our general health, they are generally overlooked. More than 70% of Americans have some sort of foot health problem sometime in their lives. The average person walks about 4 miles a day. The average person struggling with homelessness walks 10 miles a day. Homeless individuals often rely on their feet as their primary means of transportation, but frequently do not have an opportunity to remove their shoes at the end of the day. In addition, with a high rate of under-treated diabetes among homeless individuals, they are at higher risk for lower extremity ulcerations, neuropathy, and amputations. In addition, lack of access to resources makes this more troublesome, especially since Medicaid, our country's safety net for health concerns, recently cut coverage to podiatry services.
Today, Happy Feet Clinic is completely run by undergraduate students of UCLA. By working with existing community resources, Happy Feet Clinic brings together undergraduates, medical students, podiatrists, and physicians to serve this overlooked community need. After documenting a short health history, volunteers wash and clean clients' feet. Under the supervision of a physician or podiatrist, medical students perform a foot exam to screen for the most common foot pathologies. Simple procedures and medications are provided as needed and referrals for more complex situations can be provided. Clients are also provided with a bag with supplies to help maintain their foot health. Throughout the entire process, medical students and volunteers provide helpful education about how to maintain good foot health.
There is something meaningful (and even spiritual) when people take the time to care for other’s feet. Our clients often remark how grateful they are to indulge in such a simple service and education. Aside from the more medical portions of the clinic, the most important aspect of Happy Feet Clinic is that someone takes the time to talk, listen, and connect with clients about how they cope with homelessness.