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Medical News & Perspectives
February 5, 2020

Taking Medicine to the Streets to Care for Those Who Live There

JAMA. Published online February 5, 2020. doi:10.1001/jama.2019.21515

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania—Jim Withers, MD, and his colleagues make house calls for people who have no home.

Withers, medical director of Pittsburgh Mercy’s Operation Safety Net, coined the term street medicine more than a quarter-century ago to describe his team’s work.

Street medicine practitioners care for the unsheltered homeless, or “rough sleepers,” where they live—not only on the street but beneath overpasses and bridges, along riverbanks, and behind supermarkets. Research has linked living unsheltered to a greater risk of infectious and chronic diseases and a higher mortality rate.

On a single night in 2019, 37% of the nation’s homeless, or approximately 210 000, were unsheltered, about 9% more than in 2018, according to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. More than half of the rough sleepers, or 53%, were in California alone.