The Night Ministry's Youth Programs help young adults experiencing homelessness fulfill basic needs such as housing, but they don't stop there. Case Managers equip residents with tools to help them thrive.
One way they do so is by tapping into connections with local partners like Little Village-based nonprofit Working Bikes, an organization that refurbishes donated bikes and distributes them locally and globally to agencies working with people who lack access to vital resources.
The Night Ministry first connected with Working Bikes in 2019 at the Youth Outreach Team's Blue Light Connection Resource Fair, a community event for young Chicagoans facing homelessness. "Working Bikes donated 10 bicycles, helmets, and locks to fair participants," said Michelle Thomas, Youth Outreach Team Lead Case Manager.
The organizations have continued to work together. Today, when a client needs a bike, their Case Manager will complete Working Bikes' simple online application form alongside them. Once a bike that's the right size and style for them is donated and refurbished, Working Bikes reaches out to the Case Manager.
"When clients have a bike, they no longer need to ask their Case Manager for bus cards because they now have another way to get around. It increases their independence," said Thomas. "It's also empowered some to take on part-time jobs cycling for food delivery companies like GrubHub and Postmates."
To Anna Henschel, Community Programs Manager at Working Bikes, the bicycles offer something deeper too. "I think for a lot of people who aren't living in their own space - maybe they don't own the bed that they sleep on or the room that they sleep in - having a bike that's theirs is really empowering, especially when they don't get those things in the rest of their daily life," she said.
"When one of our clients first got on his new bike from Working Bikes, he was laughing like a little kid," Thomas recalls. "It reminded me of the joy of riding a bike and how important it is that we empower our clients to have fun. I'll never forget it."