Dr. Jim Withers Of Operation Safety Net Spent 22 Years Dressed Like A Homeless Person To Treat People On The Street

| by Kathryn Schroeder

To be able to adequately treat the homeless, Dr. Jim Withers decided he had to do something different.

"Literally, I started dressing like a homeless person and sneaking out at night with a guy who used to be homeless. As far as why, that had a lot more to do with my concern for the way we treated other people,” Withers told The Huffington Post.

Known in Pittsburgh as the "street doctor," Dr. Withers began his outreach work with the homeless in 1992. He and Mike Sallows, a former homeless man, would take to the streets at night dressed as homeless men with a backpack full of medicine, treating those living in alleys and under the bridges of the city. They offered free check-ups, over the counter medications and treatments.  

Sallows had two rules for Dr. Withers while tagging along with him at night: don't dress like a doctor, and don't do anything stupid, NationSwell states.

What started as two people offering free medical care has since grown. Four nights a week medical students and volunteers go out and treat the homeless, as part of Wither's non-profit Operation Safety Net -- one of the nation's first full-time street medicine programs, according to Twisted Sifter.

Filmmaker Julie Sokolow followed Withers and his team of volunteers for two days and captured their work in a new short film titled "Making House Calls, To People Without Homes." The film premiered on NationSwell earlier this week.

Dr. Withers work has made a global impact.

More than 90 countries have since developed similar street medicine programs, which Dr. Withers told The Huffington Post is an incredible mark of hope for the future of community health care.