By Vignesh Kumar, The Night Ministry's Associate Board
On October 22, 2020, The Night Ministry Associate Board adapted to the challenges of the pandemic by hosting our first virtual Night Lights gala. Part of the programming that night was an interview with Sylvia Hibbard, Case Manager for the The Night Ministry's Street Medicine Team. During this interview, Sylvia spoke about the work the team does, and the ways in which the pandemic has impacted how they connect with their clients. With the support of our Board of Directors, and the many sponsorships and in-kind donations from our community partners, we were able to fundraise $55,000 for the Street Medicine Team that evening.
While there have been previous blog posts related to The Street Medicine Team and what they do, I was able to learn more about how the pandemic and how the notoriously tough Chicago winters impact the Street Medicine Team and those whom they serve from Noam Greene, the Lead Street Medicine Team Outreach Worker.
According to Noam, while the Street Medicine Team's long term goal is to end homelessness, their short term goal is to provide life saving health care and supportive services to "rough sleepers," unsheltered individuals who are either in encampments or staying by themselves. This includes providing survival supplies, harm reduction items, and hygiene supplies. By doing this, they are able to make a connection with their clients, building trust with a population that is often promised things by agencies that do not follow through. The Street Medicine Team aims to always be consistent and deliver on their promises.
When winter worsens, the Street Medicine Team helps their clients adapt to the tough conditions. Many of the team's clients try to adjust by bringing propane heaters into their tents, which is effective but also very risky. Noam shared that generally there are often many obstacles for clients that make them unable or unwilling to use overnight shelters. Many clients have been unhoused for several years on and off, and it can be labor intensive to carry all their belongings to shelters, only to have to leave at 7 or 8 am the next morning. However, Noam says that more clients are open to going to an overnight shelter in the winter months to temporarily avoid the extremely cold nights. In addition, in the winter months the Street Medicine Team provides additional medical care and basic items such as extra coats, sleeping bags, hats and gloves.
The pandemic has also changed how the Street Medicine Team serves their clients. Due to safety concerns, the city's adult shelters are operating at a reduced capacity. While that can help prevent the spread of coronavirus, it does make it harder to get people into the shelters. The Street Medicine Team has been getting trained on giving rapid COVID-19 tests, and even have access to vaccines, which they have begun administering to their client base! The team, in partnership with staff from The Night Ministry's Health Outreach Bus and Youth Outreach Team, has also begun CTA outreach, where on Monday and Wednesday nights they set up at stations on L stops. At these stations, The Night Ministry provides food, supplies, health care, case management, and connections to telehealth.