Rough Sleepers

Rough Sleepers

Kidder, Tracy
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The powerful story of an inspiring doctor who made a difference, by helping to create a program to care for Boston’s homeless community—by the Pulitzer Prize-winning, New York Times bestselling author of Mountains Beyond Mountains.

Nearly forty years ago, after Jim O’Connell graduated from Harvard Medical School and was nearing the end of his residency at Massachusetts General Hospital, the chief of medicine made a proposal: Would Jim defer a prestigious fellowship and spend a year as a doctor to homeless citizens? Jim took the job because he felt he couldn’t refuse. But that year turned into his life’s calling—to serve the city’s unhoused population, especially the “rough sleepers,” borrowing the British term for people who sleep on the streets, in the rough.

Today, Dr. Jim and his colleagues lead an organization that includes clinics affiliated with Massachusetts General Hospital and the Boston Medical Center, and a host of teams that serve special groups. One of these is a street team who reach rough sleepers by van. Tracy Kidder spent time over five years riding with Dr. O’Connell as he navigated the city at night, offering medical care, socks, soup, empathy, and friendship to some of the city’s endangered citizens.

A symptom of the systemic failures that feed American poverty—racism, childhood trauma, violence—homelessness afflicts a broad and diverse population. To treat their many illnesses, Dr. O’Connell emphasizes a style of medicine in which patients come first, joined with their providers in what he calls “a system of friends.” In Rough Sleepers we meet some of the people Dr. O’Connell has cared for over the years, including Tony, a protector of others on the streets, and Joanne who spent many years on the streets and now lectures each new Harvard Medical School class, offering them a rough sleeper’s view of what makes a good doctor.

Tracy Kidder, a master of reporting and nonfiction storytelling, takes us deep into Jim O’Connell’s world, much as he did with Paul Farmer in Mountains Beyond Mountains. This magnificent, deeply researched, and inspiring book explores how one doctor has changed countless lives by facing one of American society’s most shameful problems, instead of looking away.

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Random House (January 17, 2023)
  • ISBN-13: 978-1984801432