Dr. Jim Withers Specializes in Treating the Homeless

Julie Sokolow and Bryan Heller

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Making House Calls to People Without Homes

Dr. Jim Withers operates his practice with a simple idea: The best way to care for the homeless is to treat them where they live.

Dr. Jim Withers’ office fits into a small backpack, which he carries with him every night on the streets of Pittsburgh. He and a small team of outreach workers and medical students are practicing what’s called “street medicine” — a term Dr. Withers coined in the early nineties. The idea behind street medicine is simple: a homeless person is not likely to visit a doctor when they’re sick or a hospital when they’re hurt, so the best way to get them treatment is to visit them where they live. On any given night Withers and his team are under bridges, on the steps of churches and in McDonald’s bathrooms offering free check-ups, over the counter medications and treatments.

Also check out the van that tweets to help the homeless.

Withers works for a small non-profit called Operation Safety Net which is part of the Pittsburgh Mercy Health System. His collaborator is a former homeless man-turned-outreach-worker, Mike Sallows, who allowed Withers to tag along in his street patrols if he followed his rules — Don’t dress like a doctor, and don’t do anything stupid. More than 20 years later, the two are still working together.

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With your support, we raised $500 in five days for the Street Medicine Institute. But you can still help bring medical and social services to those that are living on the streets by contributing to the Street Medicine Institute.

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Jacob Templin is the director of video for NationSwell.

Julie Sokolow is a filmmaker whose work has appeared on TIME, Boing Boing, and Huffington Post.