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The Legacy of Tom Behrens

Tom5 The Rev. Tom Behrens, The Night Ministry's Founding President & Former CEO, on the Health Outreach Bus.

It is with a heavy heart that we share the news of the passing of Rev. Tom Behrens, the Founding President and Former CEO of The Night Ministry. Tom's vision, dedication, and unwavering commitment to serving our community's most vulnerable members left an indelible mark on our organization and the city of Chicago.

As we mourn the loss of Tom and keep his family and loved ones in our thoughts, we also celebrate his remarkable legacy. Tom's passion for helping others, particularly our unhoused and marginalized neighbors, inspired all who knew him. As the organization's first employee, he laid the foundation of compassionate service that still anchors The Night Ministry today. And as our Founding President and Former CEO, Tom provided visionary leadership for decades that deepened and widened our impact in Chicago.

In 1976, a coalition of diverse congregations hired Tom to perform outreach to individuals on the streets of Chicago at night in response to loneliness, poverty, and homelessness in the community. As Tom told the Chicago Sun-Times in 1977, it was his job "to be present to them, to be available, to listen."

As Tom pioneered street outreach in Chicago by holding office hours from the trunk of his car and visiting bars and all-night diners, the encounters he had raised his awareness of gaps in the availability of services to Chicago's unhoused population, specifically in the areas of shelter for youth and health care. And as his awareness grew, he took action.

In the late 1980s, Tom played a key role in successfully advocating for the passage of new state legislation allowing nonprofits to operate group shelters for unhoused youth, which had been prohibited in Illinois. As a result, the landscape of youth services in the state changed dramatically as opportunities became available for unhoused, runaway, and at-risk youth to access safe shelter. The Night Ministry launched its first youth shelter, with 16 beds, a few years after the legislation was enacted. Today, across several Youth Programs, we provide shelter, supportive services, and critical resources to hundreds of young people and their children each year.

Tom also oversaw the launch of The Night Ministry's Outreach & Health Ministry Program in the early 1990s, when the organization outfitted a recreational vehicle to offer mobile healthcare services to individuals who struggled to access more traditional means of care, such as clinics or physicians' offices. Initially focused on Chicago's North Side, today our Health Outreach Program brings free medical care, case management, and resources like food and clothing to neighborhoods across the city and even to public transit, serving thousands of people each year.

Tom's tireless efforts transformed countless lives and set the standard for compassion and advocacy in The Night Ministry's work. His spirit will continue to guide us as we carry forward his mission of providing human connection, housing support, and health care to those who are unhoused or experiencing poverty. 

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The Night Ministry is a 501(c)3 charitable organization. Our Federal Tax ID (EIN) is 36-3145764.