As a doctor, how do you regain the trust of those that the rest of society has thrown aside? Pittsburgh’s Dr. Jim Withers was told the answer when he first paired up with formerly homeless Mike Sallows on a nightly humanitarian mission to offer free treatment for the city’s homeless. That first night, back in 1992, Mr. Sallows told the doctor how to be accepted on the street. He advised Dr. Withers “don’t dress like a doctor, and don’t act like a jerk.” Dr. Withers took this advice to heart, and dressed more like a homeless person to gain their trust, the two of them heading out onto the streets and treating people.
It worked, and 22 years later, the two partners are still going strong. They treat an estimated 1,200 homeless people a year, and now have support and backing from donors and the city alike. The practice has grown into a non-profit organization called Operation Safety Net, and has inspired similar street treatment medicine units in over 90 countries around the world.
Dr. Withers faced some resistance from the medical community when he first started his efforts, but says he felt the need to help the helpless was too important to ignore. He believes more should be done to draw homeless people back into the system from which they are shut out. His work is a testament to how much one person can make a difference, if they just care for their fellow man and do whatever they can to help.
Photo: Pittsburgh Magazine