Meet Our Award Winners: The Night Ministry - Health & Medicine Policy Research Group

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Meet Our Award Winners: The Night Ministry

July 27, 2022

Group Award
The Night Ministry

The Night Ministry is a Chicago-based organization that provides human connection, housing support, and health care to members of the local community who are unhoused or experiencing poverty. With an open heart, they compassionately accept each individual as they are and work alongside them to advocate for their immediate physical, emotional, and social needs while affirming their shared humanity. In 2021 alone, The Night Ministry served more than 4,500 people.

“Health and housing status are inextricably linked, and those without a permanent place to stay are at greater risk for acute and chronic illness, complex medical needs, violence, and recurring ER visits and hospitalizations. We are pleased to see a growing recognition of the unique healthcare needs of people experiencing homelessness,” says Erin Ryan, Senior Vice President of The Night Ministry. “We are honored to meet clients where they are to deliver this critical care and honored to be recognized for the work.”

The Night Ministry’s Health Outreach Program, which includes a health outreach bus, street medicine team, and Chicago Transportation Authority (CTA) outreach unit, brings health care, case management, and resources such as food and survival supplies to individuals and families who face barriers to accessing traditional points of service. The Night Ministry assists these populations with their immediate challenges and works with them to address longer-term goals, such as improved health, income, and housing.

While The Night Ministry has worked at the intersection of housing and health for decades, the ongoing pandemic has highlighted the difference in needs of street- and shelter-based clients from the general population during a public health crisis. “Over the last two years in particular, while other organizations were scaling back or reducing programming, The Night Ministry’s health outreach teams were finding new, innovative ways to serve even more people, despite uncertainty and risks to their own health,” Erin says. In the early days of COVID-19, they worked in close partnership with the Chicago Departments of Public Health and Family Support Services, as well as other providers, to ensure a just, equitable response that would not leave people experiencing homelessness behind.

From early education and access to PPE, to testing, isolation, and quarantine spaces, to vaccine access and ongoing health education, The Night Ministry has been an important part of the City’s response and has distributed over 1,000 doses of COVID vaccines to people living outside, in encampments, and in shelters. Since March 2020, they have also been an active participant in the Chicago Homelessness and Health Response Group for Equity (CHRGGE), a consortium of shelters, health care providers, students, city agencies, and advocacy groups who work in an inter-institutional fashion to break down silos of knowledge and resources in order to serve the Chicago homeless community during COVID-19.

Additionally, The Night Ministry’s CTA outreach initiative has made approximately 20,000 outreach encounters to people sleeping on the trains as de facto shelter, treating over 500 medical conditions that would have otherwise gone untreated. Their early work on the CTA during the pandemic influenced the Chicago Department of Public Health to allocate resources to this important work as part of the mayor’s increased focus on expanding mental health services in non-traditional settings.

The Night Ministry youth programs offer a comprehensive continuum of care to young people who are unhoused, providing critical support along each person’s journey to greater stability. Their housing programs, which range from overnight shelter to two years of transitional living, are safe environments in which young people can meet their basic needs and make progress on their goals for housing, education, income, and life skills. Youth program staff also support young people who are transitioning out of homelessness as they settle into more independent living.

In the coming year, The Night Ministry hopes to continue to center the voices of people experiencing homelessness through client leadership development, growing opportunities to advocate for and influence policy that affects their work. “We are particularly interested in finding innovative ways to add street-based psychiatry services to our outreach programs to increase access to mental health resources for those living in encampments or shelters. We also hope to contribute the conversation around removing barriers to safer drug use and expanded treatment, such as safer consumption sites and mobile access to medication-assisted-treatment,” Erin shares.

“This award is truly an affirmation of the incredible dedication this team has shown and the continued energy and passion they bring to serving Chicago’s most vulnerable populations.”