Imagine that it is the month of January, and the temperature is -10 °C. Snow falls all around you as you sit on a sidewalk wearing nothing but a light jacket and jeans. You start to shiver as the cold wind blows across your face. You sit silently as many people walk past you. You want nothing more but to ask someone for help. Person after person, they walk by you, like you're invisible. What you just read is an example of the daily experience for more than 250,000 people experiencing homelessness in Canada.
Occupational therapists have played essential roles in supporting people who are homeless for many years. Physical or mental health challenges that impact health and well-being are common for people who are homeless. These challenges impact their ability to function and participate in meaningful and necessary occupations or activities to live fulfilling and productive lives. Occupational therapists are well-positioned to help people who experience homelessness to promote their health and encourage engagement in occupations or activities.
A systematic review in 2019 examines some of the roles of occupational therapists working with people who are homeless and may include:
assess and treat people with physical, cognitive, emotional or behavioural issues
evaluate and implement life skills training with people with mental illness to optimize independence
collaborate with people to set goals such as staying clean and sober, obtaining housing and employment, physical health, legal assistance and education
advocate enabling people to access employment and housing opportunities
identify occupational needs to enable people to do the things they want, need and enjoy doing
Stay tuned in the coming weeks to read about a practice framework for occupational therapists researching or working with people who are homeless.
Reference: Cipriani, J., & Templeton, O. (2019). OT's Role for Persons Who Are Homeless: A Systematic Review of Assessments and Interventions in the Published Literature From 2009 to 2017. American Journal of Occupational Therapy.