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Celebrating Human Connection

The Night Ministry's President & CEO, Paul W. Hamann.

During Lighting Up the Night, our Annual Awards Dinner & Auction, The Night Ministry took a look at the third aspect of its mission---human connection. Our President & CEO, Paul W. Hamann, spoke about how human connection is at the root of the services we provide. Read his remarks below.

The Night Ministry has cultivated a data-driven culture of learning to guide the execution of our programs. The numbers and percentages on our dashboards help us evaluate the efficacy of our efforts and the impact our services have on our clients and the larger Chicago community.

For example, last year, through our Health Outreach Bus and Street Medicine Team,

  • We provided more than 1,700 free health assessments to 1,200 patients;
  • And treated 537 health conditions that would have otherwise gone uncared for;

  • At our Youth Programs,

  • We provided more than 19,000 bed nights for 455 homeless young adults and 47 of their children;
  • And we helped 192 young adults transition to stable housing.

  • But underpinning all of these and other outcomes I could share with you is what we have been celebrating this evening. It is something that cannot be counted. And that is human connection.

    If you think about it, The Night Ministry has been providing human connection longer than housing, even longer than health care. When the Reverend Tom Behrens first hit the streets of Chicago's North Side in 1976, his material offerings were limited to food, coffee, and blankets, all provided out of the trunk of his car. But Tom was out there primarily to respond to the isolation, loneliness, and despair felt by his fellow Chicagoans who had no place to stay at night, no network of family or friends to turn to, no secure place in the community. And he responded by offering human connection.

    The practices of acceptance, compassion, and empathy; of listening and offering help without conditions; of being a steady, reliable presence that were there at the beginning still inform the work The Night Ministry does today. These are the guiding principles in how we deliver our services to the more than 5,600 individuals who turn to us every year.

    If housing and health care are what we do, then human connection is the how.

    But why? Why is human connection woven into the mission of The Night Ministry?

    Simply put, we cannot imagine any other way to deliver the services and resources we provide to Chicago's most vulnerable community members. And for us, there is no other way.

    Earlier tonight, Geoffrey asked you to write down the name of an important person in your life, someone with whom you share a close connection. I want you to take that piece of paper out now and look at that name. Then imagine what it would be like without that individual in your life, if they were not there for you to call upon in your time of need.

    For the more than 80,000 individuals living on the streets of Chicago a year, there may be no name on that paper. Cast aside, ignored, often abused and exploited, there may be no one they can rely on, no one whom they can trust.

    In order for The Night Ministry to do its work, we have to earn the trust of the individuals whom we serve. As the surveys from our Health Outreach Bus clients tell us, there is a clear link between trusting in staff and accessing of services. And we earn this trust by connecting with them over day-to-day joys and struggles, over hopes and dreams, and by being there when we say we will.

    But it's not enough to earn someone's trust. We enter into a partnership with each and every individual we serve, a relationship which recognizes their dignity, their autonomy, their right to make decisions for themselves, a relationship that can lay the groundwork for achieving their potential, for a life of greater stability.

    So, how is it done?

    When a member of the Street Medicine Team provides an individual sitting on a street corner with a sack supper, socks, and hygiene kit, a door to a relationship opens. As the team member makes eye-contact while kneeling down to ask about their well-being, rapport is established. When a promise is made to return with the assistance requested, the obligation is fulfilled.

    This is how we do human connection.

    When a young person arrives seeking shelter at The Crib, they need only give their preferred name to be welcomed through the door. As their sexual orientation, gender identity, and their chosen personal pronouns are respected, guests are accepted and recognized for who they are. When Crib staff share their own stories with the individuals whom they serve, common experiences come to light.

    This is how we do human connection.

    When an individual approaches the Health Outreach Bus for a meal or a cup of coffee, an invitation to connect is offered freely and without questions. As a person experiencing homelessness stays to chat with the Bus volunteers or consult with the Nurse Practitioner, relationships blossom. When all parties meet up again at the same spot week after week, a community comes together.

    This is how we do human connection.

    When a staff member accompanies a resident of our Response-Ability Pregnant and Parenting Program to the hospital delivery room, trust is built. As a Program Specialist shows young mothers how to swaddle their newborns, bonds are supported. When former residents call the program to check in, in good times and bad, the strength of relationships are proven.

    This is how we do human connection.

    When a Case Manager joins a resident of our Open Door Shelter – West Town on their first ride on public transit, self-confidence grows.As a Program Specialist sits with a young person in crisis, compassion is demonstrated. When a volunteer shares their cooking skills to help residents prepare their dinner, self-sufficiency develops.

    This is how we do human connection.

    When a high school student who has been experiencing housing instability returns from a day of school to a home full of laughter and joy, their spirit is lifted. As Phoenix Hall staff work with a student and their family on reconciliation, ruptures in relationships are repaired. When a student is given the encouragement and guidance to pursue their academic goals, self-esteem is nurtured.

    This is how we do human connection.

    And so tonight my friends, I ask you to look at your own lives, and that piece of paper, and ask – how do I do human connection, and how do I benefit from it?

    Then I ask you to join us in upholding the network of human connections woven by The Night Ministry. With you by our side, and with your support, we will continue to bring this most vital ingredient into lives of the members of our community whom we serve.

    Thank you.

    Heat-Related Illness a Danger for Homeless
    Lighting Up the Night 2019

    4711 N. Ravenswood Ave., Chicago, IL 60640 | Phone: 773-784-9000