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Your Response to this Crisis is a Prologue to the Future

191219-NightMinistry-bus-1825 The Night Ministry's Outreach & Health Ministry Program, including the Health Outreach Bus, continues to serve Chicagoans experiencing homelessness and poverty during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A letter from Paul W. Hamann, President & CEO of The Night Ministry

April 14, 2020

Dear Friends, 

"The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected."

The above quote, attributed to Robert Frost, is one of my favorites. It is a quote about which I have been thinking a lot lately, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact our community, The Night Ministry, and those whom we serve. I've been thinking about it because, in my opinion, it summarizes the situation we are in. Five weeks ago, one could never have imagined that:

  • It would be recommended that everyone wear a mask in public;
  • We would all be told to stay inside for six weeks;
  • Schools would be closed for such a long time;
  • Chicago's landmarks would be closed to the public to prevent large gatherings and clusters of individuals sharing spaces;
  • The need to be with others and to interact with them could put one's health at risk;
  • We would develop even more appreciation for the ability to connect electronically with loved ones.

We could never have imagined all of this – and so much more – five weeks ago. But, now we know and have experienced things that we never would have suspected we would a short time ago.

Five weeks ago, here at The Night Ministry, we would never have suspected that:

  • The mere act of going to work and serving the homeless could put employees at risk of contracting the novel coronavirus;
  • Individuals whom we serve who live in encampments would be in need of basic sanitation, such as handwashing and toilets, because public places they normally access for such activities are closed;
  • We would be changing policies and protocols on an almost daily basis to respond to the health needs of staff and clients;
  • We could keep The Crib, our overnight emergency shelter, open 24/7 for so many continuous weeks, far longer than we ever have during past weather emergencies;
  • Our Street Medicine Teams would need to be completely gloved, gowned, and masked in order to provide basic services to those who live on the streets;
  • Visitors to our Health Outreach Bus would report greater desperation for food;
  • We would discourage congregating at the Bus to protect the health and safety of visitors and staff;
  • We would suspend volunteer shifts at our Health Outreach Programs and our Youth Programs so volunteers won't put their own health at risk;
  • We would have to postpone our Annual Lighting Up the Night Awards Dinner & Auction, because, as special as the evening is to us and our mission, May is too early to start having events of 500 people or more.

All of this…and so much more, we could never have imagined five weeks ago. But, indeed, they have become our reality.

What I did know five weeks ago, though, and have had continuously reaffirmed since those days when we never suspected the unimaginable, is that the staff of The Night Ministry is incredibly dedicated to their work, resourceful, and flexible. During this time, I have had the joy of witnessing:

  • Our Youth Supportive Services staff reach out to currently housed former clients by social media and devise ingenious ways of helping them to apply for benefits after losing their jobs;
  • Our front-line Youth Program Specialists become health aides overnight, as they now perform daily health checks on the residents in our housing programs;
  • Outreach and Health Ministry staff continually readjust how they deliver services from the Bus, in order to avoid crowding on sidewalks;
  • Ninety-three of our staff members gather online for our quarterly two-hour All Staff Meeting and then come together to sing "Lean on Me" at the end of it.

I have also been moved by another thing I knew five weeks ago: that friends of The Night Ministry, like you, are incredibly generous and care so much for those in our community who, under usual circumstances, are vulnerable to disease and illness but are even more so now. "Shelter in place" has a different meaning when you have no place to call home, or a shelter is your home.

Thank you for your response and generosity and for caring so much for those whom we are called to serve at The Night Ministry. Answering that call in these days of crisis is more important than ever. I am incredibly grateful to be associated with a mission that inspires friends to reach into the caring and compassionate depths of their hearts as they find ways to help their community. And, I am proud to call "colleagues" our staff who, on a daily basis, demonstrate grit and determination as they continue to practice the compassion that is the foundation of our mission.

Another favorite quote of mine is from Shakespeare's The Tempest: "What's past is prologue."In reflecting upon this quote, I know that it is The Night Ministry's 44 years of providing client-centered services that has prepared us for this moment of critical response to the needs of Chicago's homeless, precariously housed, and poor.

Likewise, I know that this moment in our history will be the prologue to a future where compassion and love for our community members who have been cast aside and ignored will be demonstrated through unquestioned acceptance and care, no matter the costs of reaching out to them. I know that this crisis and The Night Ministry's response to it – your response to it – is prologue to a better future.

I suspect – no, I know – that we will get through this.


Paul W. Hamann, MA, MNA
President & CEO

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