Bringing 'street medicine' to the homeless

Published 4:43 PM ET, Fri December 4, 2015
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For 23 years, Dr. Jim Withers has been doing street rounds in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, bringing medical care to the homeless. Krisanne Johnson for CNN
When he started in 1992, he dressed like a homeless person in order to connect with the men and women who had been excluded from his care. "I was actually really shocked how ill people were on the street. It was like going to a third-world country," Withers said. KRISANNE JOHNSON for CNN
Withers' one-man mission has since expanded to a citywide program called Operation Safety Net that includes a mobile van, drop-in centers and a primary health clinic, all where the homeless can access medical care. The group also does home visits to people who have transitioned off the streets. KRISANNE JOHNSON for CNN
Withers and his group have reached more than 10,000 individuals and helped more than 1,200 of them transition into housing. Withers met Lois -- pictured here, receiving a home visit -- when she was living on the streets. KRISANNE JOHNSON for CNN
Medical students come from all over the country to work with Withers and Operation Safety Net. "When (students) can see a street person succeed and not just get locked in that hopeless category, their vision changes. The street classroom really ignites, or reignites, what their passion is. ... And they carry that forward." KRISANNE JOHNSON for CNN
Withers is also fostering a global "street medicine" movement through his nonprofit, the Street Medicine Institute, which supports communities in starting programs of their own. "In the way I'd like to see things, every person who is still on the streets will have medical care that comes directly to them and says, 'You matter.' " Krisanne Johnson for CNN
Withers: "It's something that we should take pride in when we can actually treat people the way we would want to be treated." KRISANNE JOHNSON for CNN