Skip to main content

Secondary navigation:

Park Street Series

Lessons from the Streets: Three Decades Caring for Boston's Rough Sleepers

dr. jim o'connell

Jim O'Connell

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Dr. James O’Connell graduated summa cum laude from the University of Notre Dame in 1970 and received his master’s degree in theology from Cambridge University in 1972. After graduating from Harvard Medical School in 1982, he completed a residency in Internal Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). In 1985, he began full-time clinical work with homeless individuals as the founding physician of the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program (BHCHP), which now serves over 13,000 homeless persons each year in two hospital-based clinics (Boston Medical Center and MGH) and in more than 60 shelters and outreach sites in Boston. With his colleagues, Dr. O’Connell established the nation’s first medical respite program for homeless persons in September 1985, with 25 beds in the Lemuel Shattuck Shelter. This innovative program now provides acute and subacute, pre- and post-operative, and palliative and end-of-life care in the freestanding 104-bed Barbara McInnis House. Working with the MGH Laboratory of Computer Science, Dr. O’Connell designed and implemented the nation’s first computerized medical record for a homeless program in 1995.

From 1989 until 1996, Dr. O'Connell served as the National Program Director of the Homeless Families Program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. He has collaborated with homeless programs in many cities in the US and across the globe, including Los Angeles, London, and Sydney. Dr. O’Connell is the author of Stories from the Shadows: Reflections of a Street Doctor (2015) and is president of BHCHP and assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.