Meet Jim Withers: The Doctor Who Brings Health Care To The Homeless

Believe it or not, Doctor Jim Withers used to dress like a homeless on purpose. Why did he do this? Namely, two or three nights per week, he rubbed some dirt in his hair and put mud on his jeans and shirt before he went out to the dark streets of Pittsburgh.  

He was searching for the people he was emulating. He wanted to connect with those who were excluded from his care.

Dr. Jim Withers’s Experiences with the Homeless

According to Withers, he was shocked about how sick were the people living on the streets. He felt as if he were in some third-world country. Young and old people with mental diseases, runaway children and women who were victims of domestic violence, and veterans- all of them had their own unique story and numerous health problems.

Homelessness is a serious problem and it is definitely a burden for the medical system. Namely, homeless people often end up in the ER where they need longer treatments due to their illnesses being untreated. And, often times, there are a lot of complications.

Believe it or not, for 23 years, Dr. Withers has been helping the homeless living under bridges, in alleys, and along riverbanks.

His one-man mission became a city program called Operation Safety Net (OSN) and since 1992, this group has helped more than 10,000 people and transitioned 1,200 of them to houses. The group does street rounds and they have a mobile van, drop-in centers, and a health clinic where all homeless people can receive medical care.

Dr. Withers is also advocating a global “street medicine” movement. Namely, his non-profit Street Medicine Institute offers support to communities in starting their own programs. Its network encompasses dozens of teams in the US and worldwide.  

OSN’s Goals

This award-winning and innovative medical outreach and social program for homeless people is trying to help better the well-being of homeless people in Pittsburgh. They do this through advocating for healthcare justice, educating healthcare students, and more.

This program became a model for other cities like Atlanta, Chicago, and Santa Barbara.

Want to learn more about the hero of the homeless? No worries- check out the video shown below:




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