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Wash U program shows occupational therapy can be a powerful tool for homeless shelters

The overwhelming majority of teens and young adults who have contacted Covenant House Missouri for help during the pandemic are experiencing housing insecurity for the first time.
David Kovaluk
St. Louis Public Radio
Quinn Tyminski's work has inspired St. Patrick Center to look beyond hiring social workers to assist their clients. The center now has a full-time occupational therapist on staff.

For six years now, occupational therapy students at Washington University have worked with St. Louis’ homeless community at St. Patrick Center. Their weekly clinics seek to help people move from surviving to thriving.

Emily Woodbury
St. Louis Public Radio
Quinn Tyminski is an assistant professor in Washington University’s occupational therapy program.

Instructor Quinn Tyminski, an assistant professor in Wash U’s occupational therapy program, said that the clinic began with the basics.

“We started by getting to know the clients. We would just sit down and play a game of chess with them, or sit and talk to them about their lives. But then we started introducing what we would call occupation, or activities, into their lives,” Tyminski explained on Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air.

“We would do an art project, or we would do a chair yoga group, and then we would transition to some higher level skills, things like, how do we cook a meal? How do we go grocery shopping in the cheapest way possible, or how do we go grocery shopping in a food pantry?

“And within six months, St. Patrick Center said that we were the most beneficial service ever brought to the door,” she added.

The program, hosted within the downtown nonprofit, is one of the only student-run occupational therapy clinics for people experiencing homelessness in the U.S.

“It's a unique model, because we are using student-run services,” Tyminski explained. She said the graduate students benefit from the program just as much as the people they serve, by learning how to deal with real-world challenges and developing flexibility.

Quinn Tyminski joins St. Louis on the Air

The goal, she said, is to “create a new generation of occupational therapists that are prepared to serve our marginalized populations.”

In the six years it’s been in place, Tyminski’s clinic has inspired St. Patrick Center to look beyond hiring social workers to assist their clients. The center now has a full-time occupational therapist on staff, something she’d like to see other social service organizations follow.

As Tyminski puts it: “Social workers will find you resources for finding housing; occupational therapists will make sure you stay in that housing.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, and Kayla Drake. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Emily is the senior producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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