Summer reading — Rough Sleepers

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I thought I understood healthcare for the homeless, but I had a lot to learn. Rough Sleepers: Dr. Jim O’Connell’s Urgent Mission to Bring Healing to Homeless People describes Boston’s Healthcare for the Homeless Program by following Dr. Jim O’Connell’s career of caring for people who live, and sleep, on the streets. He ended up working in the program by happenstance, thinking it would only be a short stint. (Don’t all the most important endeavors happen this way?)

Dr. Jim had to learn respect for his patients and their decisions, even if he disagreed. He gets close to his patients and learns about their strengths and their vulnerabilities. He also learns about childhood trauma, stigma, and the rigged systems that cause homelessness.

As you might expect, the ways people come to sleeping outside vary as do the reasons people come to care for them. The book moves between individual stories and national research. The answers aren’t simple or easy. For too many of the program’s patients, answers never come.