Six months after I moved to Washington, D.C., to join Sojourners Community, in the spring of 1978, I came down with mononucleosis. I soon discovered what my neighbors had known for a long time-inner-city residents without health insurance have few options for medical care. Waiting rooms at the local public clinic and hospital emergency rooms overflowed with patients waiting for hours to see a doctor they were unlikely to see again. Health care for the poor was generally hurried and sporadic.
But, to my great relief, a friend directed me to Dr. Janelle Goetcheus at the recently opened Community of Hope Health Services, a church-sponsored clinic just five blocks away. There I found thorough and compassionate care. And thus began a relationship with several medical caregivers who have set out to transform health care for the poor in the nation's capital.
Dr. David Hilfiker began working at Community of Hope in 1983. Two years later, his family joined the Goetcheus family and others in founding Christ House, a 34-bed medical recovery shelter for homeless men. In 1990, Hilfiker and his family moved into Joseph's House, a community providing care and shelter for homeless men with AIDS.
I was blessed to spend time at Joseph's House while writing an article on the community for Sojourners (see "At Home in Joseph's House," May 1992). What touched me most about David Hilfiker was his vulnerability. By living at Joseph's House with his family, he was committed to breaking down the barriers that, under usual circumstances, would have kept him separated from the people he served; but he was well aware that as a white, Yale-educated doctor, he could never fully comprehend the powerlessness and chaos that reigned in their lives.