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Boston Doc Makes Housecalls To The Homeless

According to the city’s annual census, there are some 8,000 homeless people living on the streets of Boston. Many of them are mentally ill, addicted to drugs or alcohol, and many of them are in dire need of medical care. Dr. Jim O’Connell is trying to deliver that care.

As founder and president of Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, O’Connell spends many of his nights on the streets, where he makes what are in effect “house calls to the homeless.” O’Connell’s work and the medical challenges of the city’s homeless are the focus of a new documentary film, GIVE ME A SHOT OF ANYTHING — HOUSE CALLS TO THE HOMELESS, which premiers tonight as part of the Boston Film Festival.

“At nighttime when everyone else goes to bed, that’s when you can tell who’s been staying out on the streets,” O’Connell says. “It’s probably the most opportune time to come out and take care of people who are really street folks.”

The film follows O’Connell and his team of doctors and assistants as they track down Boston’s homeless and offer them what in many cases is life-saving medical care. The film also lifts the curtain on a part of Boston that few of us know or think much about.

“People don’t really want to see what’s going on,” says one of O’Connell homeless patients in the film. “They have a blind eye.”

O’Connell says some of the people he treats might look like typical addicts — “just somebody who’s doing too many drugs, or just a bum,” he says. “But all of a sudden you see the person behind [the medical problem] — and it’s those stories and relationships that keep us involved.”

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