Please, let’s never forget how important it is to care for people more vulnerable than ourselves. Recently I told about Narayanan Krishnan who walked away from a good job to devote his life to caring for India’s homeless (I love this story). And here’s another one, right here in the US!
Dr. Jim Withers started off dressing like a homeless man to gain the trust of homeless people living on the streets of Pittsburgh in order to give them free medical treatment. His guide was a formerly homeless man who told him, “Don’t dress like a doctor and don’t act like a jerk.” The pair once told clients the medicines in their backpacks were samples from pharmaceutical companies, but since he became a hero to the street community, Dr. Withers doesn’t need to pretend any more.
For 22 years, Dr. Jim Withers has been walking under bridges and venturing into abandoned buildings dressed as a homeless man to care for the city’s rough sleepers free-of-charge.
Now, his extraordinary outreach has grown into a national network of medical trainees and volunteers who help the helpless about five-nights-a-week…
He has treated an 85-year-old paranoid man whose legs were so infected, maggots grew inside them; a woman who was diagnosed with cancer several times; and an elderly man who risked losing his eyesight to a treatable condition …
Since his initial outreach more than two decades ago, the humble doctor has grown his nightly service into the nonprofit Operation Safety Net, part of Pittsburgh Mercy Health System and one of the nation’s first full-time street medicine programs.
Dr. Withers and Operation Safety Net’s 16-member full-time staff of social workers, case managers, physicians, nurses and outreach workers have helped thousands of people.
The team has reportedly assisted 75 percent of the people they’ve treated get health insurance and more than 500 into homes. They have regular patients who are always happy to see them.
The Daily Mail tells us, “Their story has been beautifully documented by filmmaker Julie Sokolow, which debuted on the website NationSwell on Thursday.”