Loving the People Here
In 2007, Dr. Janelle Goetcheus – founding member and medical director of Christ House – shared her thoughts on the mission of Christ House after 21 years of service. This year, we thought we would share some of this archived interview with our community as a way of recognizing our founders’ ongoing dedication and commitment to providing comprehensive and compassionate care for people experiencing homelessness in DC.
This interview took place in 2007 and was published in our print winter newsletter. It has now been abbreviated for online format.
Interviewer: Take us back to the beginning of Christ House, which opened a little over 21 years ago.
Dr. Goetcheus: My husband Allen, Dr. Don Martin and his wife Ellen, Dr. David Hilfiker and his wife Marija, Sr. Marcella Jordan, Sr. Loretta Jordan, and I began meeting as a mission group. We felt “called” to provide medical care for those who were homeless and sick in the District. Don and I were working at Columbia Road Health Services (CRHS) and So Others Might Eat (SOME). David and I also worked with Community of Hope. We were seeing sicker and sicker people and it seemed hospitals were discharging them sooner and sooner with no place to go, except shelters. We wanted to create a home where they could heal. We had been living in the neighborhood and nearly every day, as we walked by this abandoned building, there were homeless persons sleeping on the steps. We often invited them to CRHS for medical care.
One day, one of the nurse practitioners from Columbia Road and I stopped to pray in front of this building so that it might help us to provide ministry for the poor of the neighborhood. Our mission group went on an “inward journey,” which involves prayer, worship, sharing and study and an “outward journey” which involved planning and envisioning – this process took two years before we were able to welcome our first patient on Christmas Eve. The atmosphere around the opening was very joyous. We had very good staff and we were able to witness so many of God’s little miracles in the process of opening.
Because we were fully staffed, including our cooks and 24-hour nursing care, that first patient received exceptionally good care and attention! Though he had congestive heart failure, he lived for many years and visited Dr. Martin regularly after discharge. At the New Year, we had about ten patients and one of the upscale, local restaurants provided an elaborate and delicious meal for all of our patients.
I remember when we moved in. The first night we had a prayer service where we asked God’s blessing on each room. The story told in John 13 of Christ washing his disciples’ feet and telling them to go and do likewise has been especially significant over the course of this ministry. If you look at the front of the building, you can see the servant Christ, with a towel, kneeling to wash the feet of patients on the second floor (the 33-bed respite unit of Christ House).
Interviewer: How has the mission of Christ House expanded and evolved over the years?
Dr. Goetcheus: Well, we have always tried to grow in ways that support the original mission of providing comprehensive health care and addressing critical issues to help break the cycle of homelessness. We are extremely fortunate to have so many loyal and loving volunteers and that program has grown substantially from the beginning. We also have the year-long volunteers living at Emmanuel House who have not only provided great service to this mission, but who seem to so often embark upon their careers having been impacted by their experiences here.
The Kairos permanent supportive housing program also grew from a need that was not being adequately addressed in the city (affordable housing for formerly homeless persons) and we have been blessed to be able to operate this 37-bed community of former Christ House patients. The men at Kairos House have enriched the original mission beyond our wildest imagination. We also started the New Day Treatment Program in 2000 for patients with substance use disorders. Again, we have had very capable staff persons (Certified Addictions Counselors level II) to help us meet a significant need for so many of our homeless patients.
Interviewer: Next to all the blessings that Christ House is and has been for so many, are there any recurring problems that have frustrated your attempts at a solution?
Dr. Goetcheus: Simply that so much unnecessary sickness, suffering and pain continues to occur. There are more homeless and they are sicker – late stage cancer patients living out their final days in shelters and health problems (tuberculosis, strokes, diabetes, hypertension to name but a few) that disproportionately affect those who are poor.
Interviewer: Your deep love for these homeless persons is perpetually evident. What would you say to those who see the homeless as an “eyesore?”
Dr. Goetcheus: Those who see a homeless person as an “eyesore” probably have not had time to get to know them as individuals or had the opportunity to hear that person’s story. Not knowing them as persons, who they are, or their giftedness is only due to a lack of significant contact.
Interviewer: What does the future of Christ House hold?
Dr. Goetcheus: Through Unity Health Care we have been working to provide medical services for people housed in the jail. We have encountered multiple challenges, but we’re hopeful that we’ll be able to offer some sort of hospitality mission for those who are presently being released with nowhere to go. It seems the primary “crime” of the majority of those incarcerated, that I’ve come to know, is poverty.
Interviewer: I know that you are incredibly grateful to all the donors, volunteers and other supporters of this mission. Is there anything you’d like to share with them?
Dr. Goetcheus: I would hope they know that they are not just giving to an institution, but to people who are in great need. They are very much a part of this ministry, even if they are not in the building or have never been in the building.