A letter from Paul W. Hamann, President & CEO of The Night Ministry
March 23, 2020
The order for all Illinois residents to stay at home is in effect, but The Night Ministry, with your support, continues to provide essential services to young people and adults experiencing homelessness or poverty in Chicago.
Last Wednesday morning, which seems so long ago now, as I dashed out of The Night Ministry's temporary administrative offices at Edgewater Presbyterian Church, to grab my morning hot chocolate and orange juice, I encountered Noam Greene and Stephan Koruba, two members of our Street Medicine Team. They were loading up The Night Ministry's Street Medicine van as they prepared to hit the road and see clients. I stopped to ask how they were holding up in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, which has impacted the way they go about their work. "We're fine," Noam, our Lead Street Medicine Outreach Worker, told me. "It's our clients that I'm concerned about. As the world seems to close inward, the people we serve are facing more and more hardships. They need to know we are still here for them."
A couple of hours later, I was on the phone with Felitha Jones-Patterson, Assistant Director of Early Intervention Services atour Youth Housing Programs. We were discussing leadership challenges in the midst of the coronavirus. When our discussion turned to the need to adjust some employees' schedules because of their risk category, she talked about how solid her team of supervisors is and how they have come to know how to work together, having done so for nine years. "Don't worry, Paul, we are on it.We've got it covered."
As I left for home that same day, I received an e-mail from Andrew Hart, The Night Ministry's Volunteer Coordinator. The subject line was "Appeal." He had just spoken with a long-term, dedicated administrative volunteer of The Night Ministry who has several conditions that put her at-risk for the virus and were forcing her to stay home.This particular volunteer is like a grandma to many of us.She was doing OK at home by herself but was feeling isolated and lonely.Andrew was appealing for staff members to sign up on a schedule to call her, in order to make her feel more connected.
Each of these situations moved me to tears on Wednesday.They moved me because I was humbled by the dedication of our staff to our mission during this time of chaos, uncertainty, and anxiety.They moved me because they reminded me that, at The Night Ministry, we are all about human connection:
- Noam's acute awareness of how changes to our collective daily routines are having an exponential impact on Chicago's homeless
- Felitha ensuring that her staff stood ready to work through crisis and to keepsafe the youth experiencing homeless who reside in our housing programs
- Andrew asking colleagues to reach out to an organizational friend who is lonely
These three employees reminded me that, through all the anxiety, the uncertainty, the risks, the decisions to quarantine or not, the unknowns all of us now face, at the center of this crisis is the human person, and the human person needs to be in contact with others and to know that someone cares, is listening, and watching out for them.
And, in these trying times, I see The Night Ministry staff's responding to these needs. Our Health Outreach staff are ensuring that those who live on the streets are safe, that they have a meal, that they have the supplies needed to get through one more day, and that they are not forgotten. In our shelter programs, I see staff who are busy developing protocols on how to keep our young people, and each other, healthy in shared spaces, while continuing to help our residents build the foundations for better futures. I see the dedication of our back-office staff as they seek to keep the business of The Night Ministry running during chaotic times.
I am privileged, because through this chaos, I get to daily witness what human connection – and the love that is its foundation -- looks like.
In a March 16 memo to staff, I wrote "During these challenging times, The Night Ministry's mission has not and will not change.Our Organization is called to provide housing, health care, and human connection to the poor and homeless.That is it.Period. This is our job as individuals, and our job as an organization.We will not waver from this mission."
Because of our dedicated staff, we are open when so much around us is closing.
This unwavering dedication to our mission is costing us, though, and will continue to do so. We are needing to spend unbudgeted funds on food, emergency safety equipment (when we can find it), and overtime. I project that, in the next two months, we will be incurring more than $120,000 in unanticipated personnel expenses alone.These concerns, amongst many others, are what keep me awake at night, sending a chill up my spine.
Like most people, I, too, am scared, anxious, conflicted, and confused. Anyone who knows me well will confirm that I don't deal well with the unknown.However, I now have no other choice than to embrace it. My sources of strength in doing so are my loved ones and the dedication of our staff to caring for – to connecting with – those who have no one else to care for them. What a privilege to work with them.
I closed the same memo to staff as follows, "Together, I know that this will be one of our finest hours in our effort to provide housing, health care, and human connection to the poor and homeless."
All I need to do is to think of the dedication to our mission exemplified by Noam, Felitha, and Andrew, and I know we can do this.
Thank you for your support of our work, your prayers, your positive thoughts, and your unwavering commitment to our mission.You, like our staff, sustain and nourish our work through this crisis.
We hope that you continue to stay safe and in good health. Please check our website at https://www.thenightministry.org/covid19 for the latest updates from The Night Ministry.
Paul W. Hamann
President & CEO
The Night Ministry