Cop-turned-doctor opens Miami clinic for homeless

MIAMI — Leon Harris, 61 days at the Miami Rescue Mission, nursing a sore jaw and a deep and nasty chest cough, slouches on the examining table, rarely losing eye contact with the floor.

Dr. Pete Gutierrez, director of the mission's brand new medical clinic for the homeless and needy, asks Harris about his drug-use history, but assures him that he will not be judged. Then he waits patiently and looks away — a technique Gutierrez learned on the streets 20 years ago as a high-stakes, undercover cop.

Finally, the words trickle out. Harris, 56, started smoking marijuana in 1988, then he quickly graduated to heroin and crack cocaine. He has Hepatitis C. And the sore jaw? The result of a street fight months ago.

''The doctor convinced me that you have to be honest with them about your situation if you want help,'' Harris softly says after his examination, his first in years. "It ain't easy telling stuff.''

But Gutierrez, 61, knows the Leons of this tough neighborhood, stretched between downtown Miami and the Design District. He knows the no-talk, no-tell culture of its streets. He knows the fear faced by those struggling with addiction or homelessness, or those who are simply lost — in need of much more than shelter and a hot shower.

They are who inspired the Miami Rescue Mission to open this five-room clinic six weeks ago. Since then, about 60 patients have walked or wandered in looking for healthcare, advice, and sometimes just someone to listen to their stories.

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