Crusade to Bring Health Care to the World's Homeless

crusade to bring health care to the worlds homeless

Dr. James Withers, MD, FACP, a renowned physician within the Pittsburgh Mercy health system and an Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, has dedicated his life to providing medical care to the homeless. His journey began in 1992, inspired by childhood memories of accompanying his father, a family physician, on house calls, and his mother, a nurse, on home-care visits. This early exposure to healthcare in the community instilled in Dr. Withers a deep sense of compassion and a commitment to serving those in need.

Early Years and Inspiration

Dr. Withers' early work involved dressing as a homeless person and making nighttime street rounds in the alleys and under the bridges of Pittsburgh. This unconventional approach allowed him to connect with the unsheltered homeless population in a way that traditional healthcare services often could not. His efforts were soon joined by other clinical volunteers, and Operation Safety Net was born. Today, this program is recognized as one of the nation's first full-time "street medicine" concerns, setting a standard for this unique form of healthcare.

The Evolution of Street Medicine

Dr. Withers' work has not only provided medical care to the homeless but has also inspired a movement that has spread throughout the nation and the world. His holistic health care vision is communicated in a new documentary called "Go to the People," which showcases his efforts firsthand and describes the impact of the movement he has fostered. The documentary highlights the importance of listening to the concerns of homeless individuals and understanding their stories, a principle that Dr. Withers has consistently emphasized.

The Impact of Dr. Withers' Work

Dr. Withers' work has not only improved the health of the homeless but has also transformed the way healthcare is delivered to this population. His approach, which emphasizes empathy and understanding, has influenced healthcare professionals and policymakers alike. The documentary "Go to the People" captures the essence of Dr. Withers' mission, conveying the profound impact he has had on the lives of those he serves.

The Philosophy Behind Dr. Withers' Work

Dr. Withers believes that healthcare should be about serving the needs of individuals, not just the needs of the healthcare system. His work is modeled on the house calls he made with his father, where every patient was treated as a person first. Dr. Withers has come to see pieces of himself in each homeless person he has met, and he has been privileged to be welcomed into their camps and connect with them as human beings.

The Documentary and Its Impact

The documentary "Go to the People" has been instrumental in spreading Dr. Withers' message and the importance of street medicine. The film's writer-producer, Jeff Sewald, was deeply impacted by Dr. Withers' work, learning that every interaction with homeless individuals must begin with listening to their concerns and hearing their stories. The documentary has not only highlighted Dr. Withers' efforts but has also inspired others to join the movement and make a difference in the lives of the homeless.


Dr. James Withers' dedication to providing medical care to the homeless has not only improved the health of this vulnerable population but has also inspired a movement that continues to grow and evolve. His work is a testament to the power of empathy and understanding in healthcare, and his documentary "Go to the People" is a powerful reminder of the impact that one person can have on the world.