Nurse Laura LaCroix was meeting with one of her many homeless patients in a downtown Dunkin' Donuts when he mentioned that a buddy was lying in agony in the nearby woods.
"You should check on him," said Pappy, as the older man is known. "But don't worry, I put him on a tarp, so if he dies, you can just roll him into a hole."
LaCroix called her boss, Brett Feldman, a physician assistant who heads the "street medicine" program at Lehigh Valley Health Network. He rushed out of a meeting, and together the two hiked into the woods. They found Jeff Gibson in a fetal position, vomiting green bile and crying out in pain from being punched in the stomach by another man days earlier.
Feldman told him he had to go to the hospital.
"Maybe tomorrow," Gibson replied.
"Tomorrow you'll be dead," Feldman responded.
Months later, the 43-year-old Gibson is still in the woods, but this time showing off the six-inch scar — for a perforated intestine and peritonitis — that is evidence of surgical intervention. He greets Feldman warmly. "You're the only person who could have gotten me to the hospital," he says. "You're the only person I trust."
Pappy and Gibson are "rough sleepers," part of a small army of homeless people across the country who cannot or will not stay in shelters and instead live outside. And LaCroix and Feldman are part of a burgeoning effort to locate and take care of them no matter where they are — whether under bridges, in alleyways or on door stoops.
"We believe that everybody matters," Feldman says, "and that it's our duty to go out and find them."