Street Medicine: Meet The Doctor Who Is A Real Life Hero To The Homeless

For over two decades, Dr. Jim Withers has put his skills as a doctor to good use, treating people in his city who would never usually be able to afford medical attention. Dr. Withers is the founder of Operation Safety Net, which has helped more than 10,000 homeless people in Pittsburgh. He and his team do their night rounds in homeless camps throughout the city, taking food, water and medicine to those who need it the most.

Dr. Withers began his crucial work 23 years ago. His father was also a doctor, and used to make house calls to rural patients. This inspired Jim to try and connect with patients who couldn’t come to his office, muddying up his hair and clothes so he could ‘fit in’ with the homeless people he was looking for. Dr. Withers searched under bridges, alleys and alongside riverbanks, gradually gaining trust and getting to know his new patients.”Once you know they’re there, it haunts you,” he says. “You build trust with folks whose trust has been broken. It takes time and sincerity.”

Since 1992, the community outreach program has grown to four people, including a social worker, outreach expert, and medical student. Dr. Withers says it’s an amazing learning curve for young doctors, and usually reinforces the reasons they got into medicine in the first place. Dr. Withers refuses to forget those he was too late to help: the Operation Safety Net team have installed a memorial wall with plaques commemorating those who have died on the streets since they began their work.

Earlier this month Dr. Withers’s vital contribution to the well being of homeless people in Pittsburgh was recognized by CNN in their CNN Heroes 2015 shortlist.

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