Dr. William Mazzella - A Visionary for Unsheltered Individuals
Updated: Nov 8, 2020
COVID-19’s chokehold on the economy has made V-shaped recovery nearly impossible. For some, the virus has been a death knoll for employment, adequate housing, ample food supply, and sufficient medical care. COVID-19 has intensified the stark reality of oppression, pushing it to center stage for all to see. Still, in the face of such obstacles, there are stalwart individuals who advance despite challenges. One such individual is MedStreet’s Dr. William Mazzella who helps people experiencing homelessness obtain the medical care they need.
As a youth volunteering at a nursing home, Dr. Mazzella wrote a computer program on an Apple II Plus computer to help an aphasic stroke patient communicate. The patient was suffering from dementia and could barely speak. Dr. Mazzella said he was surprised when the nursing home gave him an award for creating the program. “I wished I could have done more,” he said after reflecting on the experience.
As a medical student at the University of North Carolina’s School of Medicine, Dr. Mazzella volunteered at a free clinic. “There was an attending physician who would direct medical care. Time seemed to stop while I was volunteering,” he said. “All that mattered was the patient.” Later, as a resident in Charlotte, NC, he staffed a homeless shelter once a week. “It was a rougher environment…an eye opener,” he said. At that time, Dr. Mazzella became interested in “wilderness medicine” which provides vital emergency care to patients in remote settings. He even taught a wilderness medicine class.
His commitment to serving others reached outside of the United States. In Haiti, Dr. Mazzella said, “I got up before dawn to set up the clinic. As I walked to the clinic, which was really a hut, there was a line of people mostly without shoes. They had walked all night to get to the other side of the island. People had cysts, orthopedic problems, congestive heart failure, iodine deficient goiter, dysentery, worms, and foot ulcers. There were children who were malnourished with enlarged stomachs.” Dr. Mazzella, the only doctor at the clinic, was accompanied by volunteers. “The Haitian people were super appreciative for anything to help them,” he said. “It was very touching.”
After returning to the States, Dr. Mazzella desired to continue helping vulnerable individuals by creating an organization that provides medical care to homeless people -- MedStreet. “Early on, I faced a lot of rejection, community mistrust, and confusion,” he said. “However, one day my wife and [toddler] son Joseph were sitting in a park and eyes were on us. I asked if anyone needed help. We talked about Joseph, who is a people person. We told them stories about Joseph, and then people began to ask for help. Later, we launched the website for MedStreet and asked for volunteers and saw clearly people wanted the idea to grow. We had both a national and international response.”
MedStreet is based in Virginia, but Dr. Mazzella also works in hospitals across the country in places like Idaho, Colorado, Louisiana, and Alabama. “The police are so helpful. In their trunks they have extra blankets, food, and things for the homeless. Lots of people will take me out to where homeless people are. They’ll know people’s stories, the stories of their families, and they’ll give me their medical background. Wherever the homeless go, I’ll go.”
Dr. Mazzella’s dedication to duty has remained consistent despite COVID-19. “What’s different is the sense of isolation. COVID-19 made it worse,” he said. “Things are also harder for homeless people. Shutting down the economy hurt the homeless more than anyone. Some had ‘gig jobs’ like washing dishes which helped them get by. It has been horrible for them.”
Dr. Mazzella feels that he has not done enough to help unsheltered individuals. To this end, he is working on a computer platform to directly connect homeless people across the nation with those who have the desire to help. MedStreet’s mission of humanizing the homeless is unrelenting. “It’s not a perfect world on the street,” he said. “I keep moving forward.”
Dr. Mazzella made time in his busy schedule in order to speak to Good Works Direct. We are grateful. For more information concerning Dr. Mazzella's organization, please see https://www.medstreet.org