Tracy Kidder
Rough Sleepers: Dr. Jim O’Connell’s Urgent Mission to Bring Healing to Homeless People
Random House, January 2023
320 pages

In Rough Sleepers, Tracy Kidder brings his characteristic empathy and graceful prose to the story of a doctor who has devoted his nearly 40-year career to caring for people living unhoused in Boston. As founding physician of the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, Dr. Jim O’Connell has come to preside over a staff of 600+ people serving individuals and families experiencing homelessness at more than 30 clinics in Boston and beyond. But he continues to do weekly rounds with the program’s Street Team, meeting rough sleepers where they live.

Time has taught O’Connell that “Housing turns out to be more complicated than medicine.” Homelessness, he says, is like “a prism held up to society, and what we see refracted are the weaknesses in our health care system, our public health system, our housing system, but especially in our welfare system, our educational system, and our legal system—and our corrections system.” Given the scale of the challenge, it is not surprising that few of the stories in this book have happy endings. The care O’Connell and his colleagues provide is often not enough to get rough sleepers stably housed or bring lasting improvements in their health. Yet they remain committed to their work. “There are some things you just do because it’s the right thing to do,” O’Connell says. “I want to believe there’s value in that.”

Watch Dr. O’Connell’s interview with GBH News below: