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Homeless helped by chiropractor

Friday, February 24, 2012

By Rachel Phan, The Windsor Star

WINDSOR, Ont. -- With two pinned-together white sheets acting as makeshift walls and a small, portable table, the office Dr. Dean Tapak works in every Friday is more makeshift than any other chiropractor's in the city.

The young doctor stands behind his client ý a small woman with a booming, gravelly voice. He bends her elbow and asks her how she feels every few minutes, just to make sure she is doing OK, talking to her with warmth and familiarity. The patients he sees when he closes his regular practice on Friday are primarily homeless and people at risk of becoming homeless, unable to pay what a chiropractor usually charges. With these clients, he speaks without judgment and with a caring, gentle tone.

"Dr. Tapak works from the heart. He has a good heart," said Deborah Hayes, one of his patients.

Hayes was in a car accident in 2006 that left her with an injured coccyx and degenerative discs in her back. She has been on stress leave for almost a year and has claimed bankruptcy.

"I did have therapy and I did have a chiropractor, but right now I can't afford it because my finances aren't good," she said.

Tapak, 29, provides the service through Street Health, a program of the Windsor Essex Community Health Centre that offers programs for people living in poverty. Services include primary health and dental care, computers for resume-writing and a shower and hygiene program.

More than 4,000 individuals who have little or no access to health care use Street Health's services. Clients must make less than $20,000 a year to qualify.

Tapak has been volunteering his services since November 2011 and has seen more than 273 clients so far. These people are drawn to the promise of pain relief and the welcoming atmosphere of the centre with its smiling staff and cheery, yellow walls.

The chiropractor said he was inspired by his experience growing up in Windsor and working at the YMCA.

"I liked the idea that they weren't turning anybody away and that everybody was able to use the service no matter what their income was," he said. "I knew that I wanted to provide something like that when I was in practice."

"This is my way of providing a service to my community and to people who couldn't otherwise afford it."

A graduate of the University of Windsor and the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College, Tapak also runs his own business, Your In-Home Chiropractor, a chiropractic house call service.

He initially reached out to Street Health four months before he began volunteering. In the threadbare, improvised office, there's a table, a medical bag and cream to work his client's muscles ý all of which he provides himself.

"It's completely altruistic," said Shelby Rohrer, the communications officer at Teen Health Centre. "How amazing is that?"

Tapak provides physical treatment by adjusting his clients and working their muscles. He also educates clients on how to prevent injuries in the future and how to physically feel better, despite all of life's many other struggles.

"This is such an essential service for this type of population," said Liz Atkinson-Plato, the community health educator at Street Health. "A lot of our folks are really, truly in pain, but they don't have access to any of these services."

Hayes sees Tapak every two weeks and regularly uses Street Health's other services, like the free laundry facilities.

"Sometimes you find yourself in really bad situations and people aren't understanding," she said. "(But) you come here and they just help you out ý it really does mean a lot."

Since he began volunteering, Tapak has consistently seen a high volume of clients.

"He sees more than 20 clients in a day," said Rohrer.

"Usually, people miss appointments all the time, but almost every one of his clients show up. Oftentimes, these people have no watches, clocks or transportation, and to be so committed shows the benefit they're getting."

For Tapak, he said it was a privilege to work with individuals living in discomfort, but with little resources.

"A lot of clients have been through hard times ý they get ignored often," Tapak said. "Here, they can come to the clinic and people are listening to them, paying attention to them and addressing their concerns and their needs."

"I see myself doing this as long as I can."

Copyright (c) The Windsor Star