The Christ House journey toward what we are today began in 1974 when Allen and Janelle Goetcheus accepted an assignment to serve as hospital missionaries in Pakistan. While waiting for visas, Janelle, a physician, and Allen, a United Methodist minister, visited the Church of the Saviour and some of its ministries in the District. By 1976, the Goetcheus’s had moved to Washington and helped to found their first of several health care ministries; 1977 saw the opening of Crossroad Health Ministry, Community of Hope was started in 1978, Columbia Road Health Services began in 1979, and a satellite clinic opened in 1981 at SOME (So Others Might Eat).
Each day during those years, Janelle walked past the abandoned building that is now the home of Christ House. Homeless people slept on the steps or snuck inside during cold weather. At the same time, Janelle became aware that hospitals would discharge the uninsured more quickly than other patients, meaning that homeless people had to recuperate from major illness or surgeries while living on the streets or in shelters. She and Allen “called” together five other members of the Church of the Saviour community to create a prayerful mission group that included Marja and David Hilfiker, Don and Ellen Martin, and Sister Marcella Jordan. Together, these seven receive credit for envisioning and creating Christ House.
Eventually Janelle shared the mission group’s concerns about the lack of accessibility for sick homeless people with Gordon Cosby, pastor of the Church of the Saviour. He in turn spoke with a woman who decided to anonymously donate $2.5 million to purchase and renovate the abandoned building, and provide the first few months of operating costs.
On another front, a group of private citizens and public officials prepared a grant proposal for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. In 1985, Washington, D.C., became one of 19 cities in the U.S. that received funding to provide medical outreach to the homeless. The plan contained four tiers, including medical clinics in the shelters, case managers to link the homeless to public and private health services, a 24-hour respite care facility, and linkages to area hospitals for in-patient treatment.
On February 1, 1985, the Health Care for the Homeless Project (which is now known as Unity Health Care) opened its first two clinics in local shelters in accordance with tier one of the Robert Wood Johnson plan. Christ House opened on December 24, 1985, as the respite facility outlined in tier three of the proposal.
Janelle Goetcheus was named Doctor of the Year by the American Academy of Family Physicians in 1991, and was deemed a “Woman of Mercy” by the Sisters of Mercy in 1988. She was inducted into the District of Columbia Women’s Hall of Fame in 1989, received the 1990 Good Samaritan Award from the National Catholic Development Conference, was recognized as the Public Citizen of the Year in 1993 by the National Association of Social Workers, and was named a Washingtonian of the Year in 1995 by Washingtonian Magazine. Also in ’95, Janelle was recognized by her alma mater as Distinguished Medical Alumne at the University of Indiana School of Medicine. She received the 2002 American Medical Association Pride in Profession Award.
Janelle continues today to serve as the founding Medical Director at Christ House, Columbia Road Health Services, and Unity Health Care.