The Institute Blog

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Nikki Neretin, MD

Dr. Neretin is the Medical Director of Homeless Services at the Institute.

“Socks & Roll” – Making an Impact on the City’s Homeless

December 15, 2016

“Socks & Roll” – Making an Impact on the City’s Homeless

Dr. Nikki Neretin, our medical director for homeless services, wrote this message to students, faculty and staff of Columbia Teachers College, after their generous donation of socks to her homeless patients. To read more sock stories and to follow Dr. Neretin’s band, please visit her website: dysorderlies.com


I started collecting socks a few years ago after one of my beloved clients developed frostbite.  It was a winter where the days were warm and wet and the nights were freezing.  He didn’t have a pair of socks to change into after they became wet during the day and the next day when I saw him his toes were blue.  I asked him why he didn’t go into the shelter and he said that he did not want to separate from his partner who felt unsafe in the women’s shelter. I thought then — if he only had an extra pair of socks to change into this could have been prevented.  Such a small consideration would have such a big impact.

My name is Dr. Nikki Neretin and I am a family doctor who runs the homeless services for the Institute for Family Health.  We have been providing medical services for the underserved at Broadway Presbyterian Church for the the past 20 years.  Originally we saw patients in what used to be a storage closet at the church and then through a kind grant, and the services of Architects for Humanity, we finally had a proper medical office.  Recently we were fortunate enough to do another renovation that also allowed us to renovate the bathroom and shower facilities.  Finally it feels like an environment that promotes not only healing but dignity. My team which includes two social workers, a case manager, medical assistant and community health practicum member, have enough space to provide quality care.

Rock and Roll singer by night, I started using my gigs as a platform to collect socks and although my friends and fan base are extremely generous I wasn’t able to meet the large need for socks with an upcoming cold winter.  That is when I was fortunate enough to run into Karen Baldwin, a former colleague from Beth Israel, who now works at Columbia Teachers College and immediately wanted to help out.  When I suggested the need for socks, she was ready to start a collection and within a month Karen said that she had some socks to drop off.  I was expecting a small box but instead received bags and bags of socks that seemed to be coming in weekly!  I’ve never had such a large supply of socks enabling my team to be so generous to all our clients and I even keep some pairs with me so I can give them out on the train.  It is rewarding to watch as my patients pick out a pair of socks that they like.  One of my patients picked out a pink, polka dot pair of very fluffy socks and held them as if they were a beloved stuffed animal as she walked off with a smile on her face.

If you are interested in volunteering with us, we see patients every Monday and Wednesday during lunch at Broadway Presbyterian Church, located at the northwest corner of Broadway and 114th Street.