I keep thinking of one man I met at the AOTA National Conference in Salt Lake City last April. No, he wasn’t a teacher, a colleague, a student or other member of the OT community – he was a member of the homeless community. He and his little dog stood on the street corner in front of my hotel each morning greeting all that walked by, and I stopped each morning to spend a few minutes talking to him and his pup. I have encountered countless homeless over the years in the cities I lived in, worked in and traveled to, but this man’s face has stayed with me. I can’t forget this one homeless man juxtaposed against the entrance of the national AOTA conference.
Homelessness is an intractable problem with 500,000 homeless on the streets each night in the United States alone. Homelessness often intersects with mental health challenges and addiction – two health issues where OT is proven effective. OT‘s focus on person-centered care, identifying key occupations, and the use of creative, assistive interventions, makes it an ideal modality to fight homelessness. Why isn’t OT more involved in our society’s work to end homelessness once and for all?
Online searches do not turn up very much – there are a few studies, some student projects, some position papers and an occasional anecdotal story, but it is clear that OT is not well represented on the teams working to solve the problem of homelessness despite the very real value OT would bring. Of course complicated and limited funding play a role, but does the homeless services community understand the value of OT?
Many key metrics could be impacted by the assistance from occupational therapists.
- Consistent assessment of IDALs and ADLs
- Interventions to improve function in the shelter environment
- Person-centered therapy built around the person’s highest occupational needs
- Assistance rebuilding relationships within the community to support meaningful occupations
- Teaching one-on-one and in group settings key life skills. (Money Management; Home Management; Leisure Activities; Time Management; Parenting Skills; Coping Skills; Health and Nutrition; Self Esteem; Medication Management ; Job Skills)
What can we do as members of the occupational therapy profession, to help with homelessness? I hope as we ask ourselves that question, we can impact this great problem in a meaningful way. Are you doing great work with the homeless in your community? Share your successes and challenges!
Cheryl Hall, OT
Author and Illustrator, Occupational Therapy Toolkit