NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • 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
“I couldn’t put Rough Sleepers down. I am left in awe of the human spirit and inspired to do better.”—Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone
Tracy Kidder has been described by The Baltimore Sun as a “master of the nonfiction narrative.” In Rough Sleepers, Kidder shows how one person can make a difference, as he tells the story of Dr. Jim O’Connell, a gifted man who invented ways to create a community of care for a city’s unhoused population, including those who sleep on the streets—the “rough sleepers.”
When 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 he defer a prestigious fellowship and spend a year helping to create an organization to bring health care to homeless citizens? Jim took the job because he felt he couldn’t refuse. But that year turned into his life’s calling. Tracy Kidder spent five years following Dr. O’Connell and his colleagues as they served their thousands of homeless patients. In this illuminating book we travel with O’Connell as he navigates the city, offering medical care, socks, soup, empathy, humor, and friendship to some of the city’s most endangered citizens. He emphasizes a style of medicine in which patients come first, joined with their providers in what he calls “a system of friends.”
Much as he did with Paul Farmer in Mountains Beyond Mountains, Kidder explores how a small but dedicated group of people have changed countless lives by facing one of American society’s difficult problems instead of looking away.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
In this moving chronicle, Pulitzer Prize–winning author Tracy Kidder takes us into the hard lives of Boston’s unhoused citizens and shines a light on the people working to help them. Kidder follows Dr. Jim O’Connell, president of the Health Care for the Homeless Program, as he and his Street Team listen to and advocate for some of the city’s most vulnerable residents. The book explores the magnitude of the problem—a volatile mix of addiction, institutional poverty, untreated mental illness, and political red tape—while also focusing on how Dr. Jim’s team is helping find solutions. We loved getting to know some of the real people behind the headlines, whose stories are heartbreaking and relatable, since many Americans are just a few missed paychecks away from a similar situation. Rough Sleepers is a tough but necessary read that offers lots of insight and even a little hope.
Pulitzer winner Kidder (A Truck Full of Money) spotlights in this poignant account the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, "the country's largest medical system wholly devoted to the care of homeless people." At the center of the narrative is Jim O'Connell, the program's founding physician and organizer of its Street Team, which ministers to people who shun shelters and live "mainly outside or in makeshift quarters." According to Kidder, the Health Care for the Homeless Program works against the grain of corporate medicine by emphasizing continuity of care and the importance of listening attentively to and spending time with homeless people. Interwoven with O'Connell's story are those of his patients, including Tony Columbo, who spent 18 years in prison for sexual assault and struggles with substance abuse and mental disorders. Drawing on five years' worth of reporting, Kidder vividly portrays life on the streets and in the program's health clinics, and sheds light on various legal and policy matters, though the focus is less on the institutional forces that contribute to chronic homelessness than on the individual lives it touches. Keenly observed and fluidly written, this is a compassionate report from the front lines of one of America's most intractable social problems.