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  • Writer's pictureLinda Odhner, with photos by Liz Kufs

Excerpted Inspirations #86

[Jim O’Connell is a medical doctor, trained at Massachusetts General Hospital, who in 1985 agreed to spend a year caring for Boston’s homeless population before moving on to a fellowship at Sloane-Kettering in New York.  He began by soaking patients’ feet at a nurse-run clinic, and after two years working there, gave up the fellowship to continue serving in the community.  He began driving a van with medical supplies, food, blankets, and clothing to reach people living on the streets.  McInnis is the nurse he met the first day at the clinic who became his mentor.]   	O’Connell remembers McInnis telling him, “We’re way down on the solution scale.”  Housing wasn’t just complicated.  He found that if he mused too long about the problem, on the forces ranged against great progress and the disagreements among allies, he grew hungry for the clinic, his colleagues, his patients.  “I don’t get despairing,” he told me.  “But it’s much easier to just go take care of people.”  For all its limitations, that work felt full and rich and edifying, and real.  Some allies in the struggle against homelessness criticized the [Boston Health Care for the Homeless] Program for using resources that should have gone to housing.  O’Connell’s reply was plain: “This is what we do while we’re waiting for the world to change.”    Tracy Kidder, ‘You Have to Learn to Listen To These Patients,’  New York Times Magazine, 1/8/32, p. 46, adapted from the book, Rough Sleepers: Dr. Jim O’Connell’s Urgent Mission to Bring Healing to Homeless People (2023)

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