Street Medicine is an emerging collaboration of health care professionals, formerly homeless outreach workers, and others that has been happening globally since the early 1990s. Street medicine practice is defined as those health care and related services that are delivered directly to persons sleeping on the streets, along the river banks, and in the abandoned buildings, etc., of cities.
Pioneers of street medicine have been practicing their art as the world's homeless population has increased, but largely in isolation. Networking efforts over that past two decades have resulted in the recognition that a new field of medicine has emerged. The term Street Medicine, in this context, was coined by Dr. Jim Withers who has been one of the leaders in the movement. His program, Operation Safety Net in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has hosted the annual International Street Medicine Symposium in various cities since 2005. At this first meeting, the keynote speaker was Dr. Jack Preger.
Preger has been practicing street medicine in Calcutta, India since 1979 and has founded the Calcutta Rescue relief agency. The group collaborates to improve the care of the unsheltered homeless ("rough sleepers"), to support street medicine practitioners, to conduct research, and to advocate for health care justice. As of 2007, twenty-one cities of the United States and eleven international cities in four continents are represented.
The Street Medicine Institute is being formed as a nonprofit to coordinate and enhance these activities. It has been supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Glaxo Smith Kline Foundation. The purpose of the Institute includes the development of best practices for street medicine, the creation and enhancement of street medicine programs as requested, and the training of health care students who wish to specialize in the skills of street medicine practice. In 2007, the Street Medicine Fellowship was initiated through the Donald E. Withers, MD Memorial Fund for Street Medicine Education.The Street Medicine collaborative group welcomes any persons or groups that have an interest in improving the lives of those who sleep on the street. Major partners include the National Health Care for the Homeless Council (contact John Lozier) and the European Federation of National Organisations working with the Homeless (contact Dr. Igor van Laere).