1995 Common Cause Public Service Achievement Awards

Common Cause Magazine, Summer 1995 | Go to article overview

1995 Common Cause Public Service Achievement Awards


Janelle Goetcheus, M.D.

A dedicated physician who brings healing and hope to the homeless of Washington, D.C.

Having seen firsthand the disabling poverty, disease, substance abuse, mental illness and hopelessness that plague the homeless in the nation's capital, Dr. Janelle Goetcheus decided to get a little closer.

She chose to live in the midst of it all.

And it's that relationship, along with "a sense of call and an hour of prayer each day," that nurtures her commitment to service in Washington's inner city.

Frostbite, HIV and tuberculosis are just some of the health problems associated with homelessness, and Goetcheus knew the long odds against recovery on the streets. She and others at the Church of the Savior envisioned a place where the sick and homeless could rest and heal.

Medical director Goetcheus and her family - along with two other physicians, a couple of nurses and a nun - now live at Christ House, the 38-bed live-in facility that she co-founded in 1985. Last year more than 300 homeless men found a temporary respite from the streets, medical care, counseling and hope at Christ House.

"My life is enriched by living and being with persons who are homeless," she says.

Goetcheus spends most of her time as medical director of Health Care for the Homeless, a project that serves some 10,000 residents of 12 homeless shelters and people living on heating grates and in parks and abandoned buildings.

Goetcheus also serves as medical director of Columbia Road Health Services, the clinic she co-founded in 1979 to serve the city's population of Central American refugees

Yet "things are even worse than when we began," Goetcheus says, explaining that she now sees "much sicker homeless persons." AIDS, non-responsive TB and hospitals that won't treat the homeless are among the culprits. "Confronting [health care] systems that don't change" brings her endless frustration.

But she's not about to give up "This is home," she says. "This will be what I do until I physically cannot do" it.

Ralph Neas

A skilled and visionary advocate for the civil rights of all Americans.

All Americans cherish their constitutional rights, and it has been the work of Ralph Neas to ensure that the rights of all Americans - be they African American, disabled, gay or lesbian or advanced in years - are equally recognized and protected.

As executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, Neas has built a coalition of 185 civil rights groups that has weathered political storms and expanded the concept of individual rights.

Under Neas's leadership the conference helped win passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, successfully fought the nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court and oversaw the extension of the Voting Rights Act. Neas pushed the civil rights agenda forward at a time when many would have been satisfied to protect existing laws.

As a white male and a Republican, Neas might seem an unlikely choice to head the conference, but he defies stereotype. He infused the coalition with new strength, bringing gays and lesbians, the disabled, women and the elderly into an organization whose membership had been racially based.

A believer in the power of bipartisanship, Neas has helped craft civil rights legislation that won enough support from both parties to overcome presidential vetoes.

Neas has also overcome personal obstacles. Before coming to the conference, Neas served as chief legislative assistant to then-Sen. David Durenberger (R-Minn.). While on a business trip in 1979, Neas suffered temporary paralysis from a rare neurological disorder called Guillain-Barre Syndrome. He required months of intensive care. Neas later founded the Guillain-Barre Syndrome Foundation, which now has 15,000 members and 130 chapters worldwide.

After 14 years with the conference, Neas has decided to move on. …

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