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Dr. Jim O’Connell of Boston spends Monday and Wednesday nights doing outreach work with the homeless. He travels in a van stockpiled with plastic-wrapped sandwiches, hot chocolate, warm blankets and dry socks. Two evenings a week, he rides around the city distributing these supplies to people who need his help.
O’Connell, 64, has been riding in a Pine Street Inn outreach van for more than 25 years, not practicing medicine in the conventional sense, but giving food and blankets and limitless time to people who live on the streets. Because he knows that if he can win their trust, he may be able to persuade them to accept medical care from Boston Health Care for the Homeless, the organization he founded in 1985.
O’Connell acknowledges that caring for homeless people can be burn-out work, but he says he’s sustained by how heroic he considers many of his patients and by the satisfaction he gets from making their lives a little gentler.
O’Connell is a powerful example of the impact one person can make. Proof of that is in the thousands of homeless men and women who’ve received top-notch medical care, and sometimes life-saving care, thanks to a vision he embraced 27 years ago.