About The Institute

What is Street Medicine?

Street Medicine is the provision of medical care directly to those living and sleeping on the streets through mobile services such as walking teams, medical vans and outdoor clinics.  Street Medicine is the first essential step in achieving higher levels of care through assertive, coordinated and collaborative medical management.

What does the Street Medicine Institute do?

Street Medicine Institute facilitates and enhances the direct provision of health care to the street homeless where they live.  Efforts in cities worldwide have led to a global awareness of Street Medicine that embodies compassionate, accessible and cost effective care to a population that otherwise would be universally ignored.  Those communities that provide Street Medicine look to the Street Medicine Institute for support and guidance as the field of practice continues to develop.

Our Vision

People living on the streets throughout the world will have direct access to health care and social services.

History of SMI

In 1992, Dr. Jim Withers dressed as a homeless person began making medical visits to people living on the streets in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania along with a formerly homeless man.  His idea was to find a “classroom” that would allow the students to work in the reality of the alienated and excluded poor of that city.

When he started, there was no template to deliver care except for some wilderness medicine training and trips.  He listened and tried to understand the circumstances of the street homeless – eventually working in partnership to address the loose ends of their health care.  Over time, others joined the work and Operation Safety Net was started.  Its mission was that nobody should falls through the cracks and die on the streets.

At the core, he sought to base his work on the streets (“Street Medicine”) on a deep philosophical basis that would meet people in their own reality.  Much of health care is based on the model of making people come to the medicine.  It forces people to fit into the boxes designed for the comfort of practitioners.  But, this system excludes those who cannot come to systems, those that usually need it most.

Street medicine has become a global movement.  Since Dr. Wither first connected with Dr. Jack Preger in Calcutta in 1993, a network of over 80 communities practicing street medicine has emerged.  It is essential that these communities support each other.  These practitioners are largely “homeless” themselves in the medical community.  Not only is the practice not recognized, but the values they hold that prioritize the value of the most vulnerable are also not embraced by main stream health care.

As Dr. Withers traveled to communities throughout the US and other countries, he sensed a burning desire among Street Medicine practitioners to link together for insight and encouragement.  To that end, he and others created the annual International Street Medicine Symposium in 2005.   Since that time, seven highly successful symposia have been held and the next is planned for September 2012.  These have begun to build the kind of unity that is needed to validate street medicine as an actual field of medicine.

In 2008, Dr. Withers and other dedicated Street Medicine practitioners officially launched the Street Medicine Institute.  This Street Medicine Institute is now the “home” of street medicine and will serve the following four key purposes:

– To assist communities seeking to establish their own street medicine programs.

– To define and improve the practice of street medicine

– To host the annual International Street Medicine Symposium

– To provide educational opportunities (such as the Street Medicine Fellowship)

The essence of street medicine is the Golden Rule – doing unto others as we would have others do to us if we were in their shoes.  This requires us to believe others are worthy enough to deserve our compassion … and we are ultimately connected as brothers and sisters.

The Street Medicine Institute is incredibly proud of these accomplishments.  We remain committed to working in solidarity with others to fulfill the vision of street medicine as a source of true healing.