Jeff Sewald.

Jeff Sewald is an award-winning writer and filmmaker whose specialty is defining the cultural significance of people, places, things and events. He began his career as a print journalist writing feature articles. Over time, his reputation as a conversational yet probing interviewer expanded and led to 25 years of success as a producer, writer and director of documentary films.

Mr. Sewald has experience in a variety of media and with an array of topics, from music to politics; business to sports. His work has brought him into contact with a host of luminaries including, among others, American historian David McCullough, film director Sidney Lumet, football legend Mike Ditka, famed attorney Alan Dershowitz, author Peter Matthiessen, and rock music icon Lou Reed.


Produced, written and directed by Jeff Sewald.

Inspired by childhood memories of accompanying his father, a family physician, on house calls, and his mother, a nurse, on home-care visits, Dr. Jim Withers began providing medical care to Pittsburgh’s unsheltered homeless population in 1992.

Initially dressing as a homeless person (and assisted by a street-savvy formerly homeless man), Jim began making nighttime street rounds in the alleys and under the bridges of the city. Inspired by this bold outreach, other clinical volunteers joined in, and Operation Safety Net was born. Today, the program is recognized as one of the nation’s first full-time street medicine concerns, and it continues to set the standard for this unique form of health care.

Over time, Operation Safety Net inspired a movement that has since spread throughout the nation and the world. This film communicates Dr. Withers’ holistic health-care vision while showing firsthand the work of Operation Safety Net, and describing the effects of the movement that it has promulgated.

“When I first decided to make this film, Dr. Jim Withers told me that I would be changed by it, and he was right.”

– Jeff Sewald

“In all the many homeless encampments we visited throughout the U.S. and in foreign countries, not once did I ever feel threatened.”

– Jeff Sewald

“The concept of the ‘other’ always attracted me. Part of that is just an innate curiosity about places and people who are different.”

– Dr. Jim Withers

“In medical education, there are forces at work that tell us, the ‘other’ is dangerous; the ‘other’ doesn’t deserve the care that we would want. And that has caused some outrage in my heart.”

– Dr. Jim Withers

“Everyone has their own story and their own journey to the street. And although there are trends – poverty, mental illness, domestic- and/or child-abuse, and addictions – every individual is unique. I began to see myself, potentially, in each of the homeless people I met. It was a sacred privilege to be welcomed into their camps, not to solve their problems, but to connect with them as fellow humans.”

– Dr. Jim Withers

“I can’t emphasize enough that my work with people living on the streets came not so much from my sense that they needed me, but that I needed them. Basically, what I do is modeled on the house calls that I made with my dad. He’d go and sit with someone in their kitchen, and have a cup of coffee with them. To him, every patient was a person, first. And it wasn’t just a matter of getting more information; it was a matter of connecting with them. And from that platform, with a relationship and solidarity of purpose, people want to get well. They believe that they can because they believe they’re being heard, and that they matter.”

– Dr. Jim Withers

“My dad was a old-fashioned country doctor and, as a kid, I was able to make house calls with him. My mom was a nurse, who made home visits. And one of the more extraordinary things I experienced as a teenager was traveling as a family to do medical work in places such as Nicaragua, Guatemala and Saint Lucia. To me, that was a normal childhood. But I realize now that it was an incredible blessing to have parents who saw service as a natural part of who they were. They both came with a sense of idealism about improving the world and living out their beliefs.”

– Dr. Jim Withers

“Medical training had a significant impact on me, as it does to many students, be they medical, nursing, or otherwise. You come into this idealistic profession with a lot of dreams and values, and then you hit the wall. There is a lot of systems-type stuff that dehumanizes the people we’re supposed to be serving, and it can be pretty depressing because you come to see healthcare and healthcare training as a giant machine that serves its own purposes more than those of the people who are ill or suffering.”

– Dr. Jim Withers

“I find the kind of work that I’m doing particularly energizing because I’m not running away from reality. It’s easy to stay in your box, in your comfort zone. But to move toward reality, and to be ready for it, is a lot more exciting and interesting than trying to define reality for other people.”

– Dr. Jim Withers

“I see myself as part of the vanguard of people who are moving forward, out of their comfort zones and into a whole new medical arena. We must support all of the doctors, nurses and other healthcare practitioners who are inclined this way in order to enable them to move outside of the boundaries of established medicine.”

– Dr. Jim Withers

“I piloted this work in 1992, and developed a lot of loyalty amongst the people on the street. They called me “Doc Jim,” and I began to get referrals from this bridge to that bridge because, as much as they
hated the healthcare system, they loved me.”

– Dr. Jim Withers

“I learned from Dr. Withers that every interaction with a homeless person must begin by listening to their concerns and, sometimes, just simply hearing their story.”

– Jeff Sewald

“We all have a tendency to not look homeless people in the eye, which is sad, when you think about it. After all, the homeless are human beings, just like you and I, with human feelings. By averting eye
contact and looking away, we communicate to them that not only don’t they matter, they don’t exist.”

– Jeff Sewald


Explore the various facets of Mr. Sewald’s portolfio.


In September 1995, Mr. Sewald began writing and co-producing documentaries …


Before relocating from Pittsburgh to New York, Mr. Sewald wrote many features and reviews for regional publications…


Between 1984 and 1991, Jeff Sewald earned a portion of his living writing interview profiles and reviews of major musical artists…