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Celebrating 45 Years: The Night Ministry Launches Chicago's First Street Medicine Program

street-medicine-min The Night Ministry’s Street Medicine Team assisting clients along Lower Wacker Drive. Photo by Lloyd DeGrane.

By 2015, The Night Ministry's Health Outreach Bus had been on the road for 25 years, providing free health care to Chicagoans experiencing poverty or homelessness, but the agency sensed it could be making a wider impact on the streets.

"There was this inkling that we could reach more people who were really falling between the cracks if we were a little more flexible and more mobile," said Erin Ryan, Senior Vice President.

In search of new ideas, Ryan and David Wywialowski, Director of Outreach and Health Ministry, attended a conference on health care for the homeless. As luck would have it, Jim Withers, founder of Pittsburgh's pioneering street medicine program Operation Safety Net, was seated right behind Ryan. The two struck up a conversation. "He asked me, 'What do you know about street medicine?' And the rest is history," she said.

Backpack Medicine, the initial prototype, launched as the winter set in that year. A small team, usually consisting of Wywialowski, a nurse, and a social worker, would set out once or twice a week. With backpacks filled with survival supplies, they visited scattered encampments and unsheltered individuals in hard-to-reach locations.

Over Street Medicine's young life, it has steadily grown from serving one day a week to six. Not only has the schedule expanded, but staff has increased to include a full-time Case Manager, a Nurse Practitioner, a Substance Use Advocate, a Peer Support Advocate, and Outreach Workers. The program's comprehensive approach helps clients meet their basic needs while also providing assistance with housing, harm reduction, and more.

In 2019, Street Medicine upgraded to a custom-made van complete with a space for medical exams and consultations, exterior lighting to illuminate dark spaces, and organized storage. Today the team regularly visits over 40 sites across Chicago.

Noam Greene, Lead Outreach Worker, said Street Medicine's dependability strengthens its connections within the communities it serves. "Just like any relationship, it takes time to build trust, and we've been able to demonstrate we are going to keep coming back," they said.

This article is one in a series celebrating milestones in The Night Ministry's 45-year history. Explore the links below to read more stories.

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Celebrating 45 Years: The Night Ministry Pioneers Mobile Health Care on Chicago's Streets - EasyBlog

For the first fourteen years of the agency's history, The Night Ministry staff conducted outreach on their feet, supporting the community members they encountered while walking the nighttime streets of Chicago. Realizing that many of those individual
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Celebrating 45 Years: The Night Ministry Opens Its First Youth Shelter in a Time of Dire Need - EasyBlog

By the close of the 1980s, Chicago's population of unsheltered young people had reached an estimated 10,000 individuals per year. State law prohibited nonprofits from operating group shelters for them, leaving youth experiencing homelessness with few
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Celebrating 45 Years: West Town Facility Enhances and Expands Services for Homeless Youth - EasyBlog

On August 3, 2006, the residents of The Night Ministry's Open Door Shelter–Lakeview packed up their belongings and made the journey, along with the shelter's staff, to a newly rehabbed facility in Chicago's West Town neighborhood. The move came nearl
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Celebrating 45 Years: The Crib Turns Homeless Advocates' Vision into Reality - EasyBlog

The Crib, The Night Ministry's overnight shelter for young adults experiencing homelessness, owes much to a group of young change makers called Homeless Experts Living Life's Obstacles (H.E.L.L.O.). For years, H.E.L.L.O. members would meet weekly to
Celebrating 45 Years: The Crib Turns Homeless Advo...
Street Medicine Volunteer Physician Dr. Aaron Brin...

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