By A Faith That Does Justice
May 8, 2023 – A Faith That Does Justice, a Boston-based nonprofit that educates people about social justice issues and helps people put their faith into action, recently held a Fireside Chat with Jim O’Connell, MD, President of Boston Healthcare for the Homeless Program (BHCHP).
Fr. Peter Gyves, SJ, MD, Founder and Executive Director of A Faith That Does Justice, interviewed O’Connell about his experience running BHCHP and working with Boston’s homeless population. O’Connell began by talking about the common misconception that people experiencing homelessness flock to big cities in seek of services, stating that many of the people he treats in Boston are here because it’s where they grew up and they are seeking the comfort of “home”. He spoke to Boston’s dedicated support of people experiencing homelessness – less than 5% of Boston’s homeless population sleep outside instead of in a shelter compared to other major cities such as Los Angeles where 80-85% of the homeless population sleep outside. He attributes this to a long commitment from local government to provide support for shelters, emergency services, and a Medicaid programs that actively seeks to support vulnerable individuals.
O’Connell shared lessons he has learned over the years about how to treat the complex medical needs of people experiencing homelessness, pointing to the importance of building trust as the key element. He found that showing compassion and humanity – bringing hot coffee, soaking sore feet, sharing a little bit about yourself – created bonds and trust that allowed medical professionals like himself to provide life-saving healthcare.
Fr. Gyves shared his own experience as a doctor working in El Salvador during that country’s civil war and his astonishment at the levels of poverty and yet the ability of the people to find joy, asking whether O’Connell had seen the same in Boston. O’Connell shared that he had the same experience working in countries like Haiti and Africa where the people were experiencing extreme poverty, but found joy through family, song, and experience. Conversely, in urban populations like Boston and LA, he saw loneliness and despair.
“Working with this population transforms everything we think about for them. We became one of the few stable things in their lives. We were there through thick and thin, through darkness and light – and that is what makes us gratified to be in their lives,” said O’Connell.
Our takeaway: as people of faith, we can transform lives through love, humanity, and compassion.
You can learn more about A Faith That Does Justice and their future events here.
View the full discussion below: