In Quebec, there is a little-known project that has been more than seven years in the making. It’s a chiropractic clinic integrated into Montreal’s largest service organization, Accueil Bonneau, which is dedicated to helping homeless and under-housed men in the city re-integrate into society.
In 2011, the ACQ, along with some of their members, initiated this project. Today, it is making a huge difference in the community.
The chiropractors who came together to start this project were conscious of the needs of homeless people in the city, acknowledging that many of their health issues were musculoskeletal in nature. Many people who live on the street walk a lot, wear old shoes, have physical and mental health concerns, and have back problems from sleeping on the ground. Chiropractic care was an ideal fit to help the homeless in a way no other service program could.
In 2012, after a good deal of planning and collaborating with Accueil Bonneau, the chiropractors sought the assistance of their provincial association, the Association des chiropraticiens du Québec (ACQ). The program received $10,000 in funding from the ACQ and a significant contribution from the Accueil Bonneau Foundation’s generous donors.
They were also offered radiology equipment from MTM Medical Tronik at a reduced rate and Chirosoft donated software to help them manage clinic and patient files.
When the clinic doors first opened in January 2016, there were 29 patients and 20 volunteer chiropractors. Two years later, there were 100 patients and 46 volunteers.
The chiropractic clinic at Accueil Bonneau works with members of the local social re-insertion program, which transitions people out of homelessness and helps them find employment and long-term housing.
Dr. Renée Dallaire has volunteered with the project since its inception and described the project as “a brilliant collaboration” between the ACQ director and employees, Accueil Bonneau director and team, knowledgeable volunteer chiropractors, and experienced of outreach workers at Accueil Bonneau.
Many volunteers find the program to be an excellent opportunity to use their health knowledge in new ways. The program also offers participants the opportunity to meet and work with other chiropractors, which is particularly attractive to volunteers who operate out of a private practice and may not always have a chance to work in such a collaborative environment.
Many volunteers have expressed an outpouring of positivity towards the program.
Dr. Dallaire notes that “in everyday life, with busy schedules and with work, it’s not easy to stop and take the time to volunteer, but even just one day can change someone’s life. Truly.”
Nicolas Pagot, the Director of Programs and Services at Accueil Bonneau, expresses how valuable the program has been for the people they serve. “Since the clinic was established, it has been a huge source of pride to see the beneficial effects on the recipients of the program,” he said. “Often, once their physical pain is reduced, we see smiles appear on their faces. They begin wanting to take care of themselves and improve their living conditions.”
Chiropractors often express how much the experience has helped them personally. “We have a real positive impact on their lives, and they do the same for us,” said Dr. Myriam Ganier, a volunteer at the clinic. “We feel like we’re making a difference and are reminded of the privilege of having people who are there for you creating meaningful relationships.”
Another volunteer, Dr. Arielle Nkambou, shares how the program has touched her. “I decided to step out of my comfort zone and explore an unknown environment, and I’m proud of myself for doing so. I’m also proud of my profession. I encourage all my chiropractor colleagues to do the same! Pay it forward!”
Dr. Dallaire explained how important this human—and humane—interaction is to the men in the program. “We conducted some interviews with patients. They told us their stories, explaining how and why they became homeless. It was a very emotional moment.”
For many of the patrons of the program, being treated by a chiropractor is an enormous show of humanity. “For some of them, just to let themselves be touched by someone else is a big step, since many have not been touched in years. It’s not easy for them to let someone take care of them,” says Dr. Dallaire.
Pagot explains how this program has had an impact on the community. “What I’m most proud of in this initiative is the growing relationship that is developing between the chiropractors and the guys from Bonneau. It’s a relationship filled with humanity, respect, and empathy.”
The clinic has been so successful that, in 2016, they received a Medal of Distinction from the Ordre des chiropraticiens du Québec. In 2018, Accueil Bonneau gave the ACQ the Monique-Picard Award, which recognizes the extraordinary involvement of volunteers supporting their community in an innovative way.
Chiropractors at the clinic vary in the frequency and duration of time they volunteer. Some come weekly, others monthly, and others once or twice a year. The emphasis of the organizers is that they want as many volunteers as they can get. Organizers focus on inclusion and giving back rather than a specific time commitment. Many of the volunteers practice in Montreal, Laval, and south of the St. Lawrence. But other chiropractors come trek from Quebec City (a three-hour drive), Abitibi (an eight-hour drive), and even Gaspésie (a 10 to 12-hour drive) in order to give back.
Dr. Laura Benhaïm, another volunteer, gives her perspective. “We may not always have the means to give to causes that are important to us, but we can easily give a few hours each month, or even each year. Everyone gets something out of it.”
Whatever your province of practice, always remember to give back.
For those looking to volunteer with the clinic, please contact Cathy Tremblay at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-514-355-0557, ext. 103. Note that only ACQ members may practice at the clinic. The clinic is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and one Saturday each month.