There are phrases that have been spoken and written so many times over the last year or so that they have nearly lost their meaning. "Getting used to the new normal." "We are living in unprecedented times." "We're all in this together." I'm sure you can think of others. Frankly, I'd be happy to never hear or read them again.
Yet at the root of these thread-worn sayings lie nuggets of truth and sources of inspiration which I find myself reflecting upon, and drawing comfort from, as The Night Ministry closes out its 2021 fiscal year.
I think back to the circumstances we were experiencing last summer, at the start of this fiscal year. Globally and locally, daily coronavirus infection rates were climbing with alarming speed, while death counts were tragically mounting. Cautious re-openings in some areas of our lives were coupled with fears about keeping ourselves and our loved ones healthy when venturing out in public. With a vaccine but a distant glimmer on the horizon, we wondered just how long the pandemic would persist. And, in the midst of this altered world, came anguish, frustration, unrest, and calls for a reckoning over the persistence of systemic racial inequality and injustice in our country.
For members of our community experiencing homelessness or poverty, situations proved to be even more dire. The pandemic was disproportionately impacting Black and Latino communities in Chicago neighborhoods—many of them served by The Night Ministry — already dealing with high rates of poverty and unemployment. Job losses moved households who were already struggling to keep a roof over their heads one step closer to homelessness.Many of those in need of shelter scrambled to find a place to sleep at night, as shelters reduced capacities to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Resources such as drop-in centers, food pantries, and outreach services were unavailable or scarce as agencies scaled back operations.
The conditions faced by Chicago's homeless and poor made it imperative that, at The Night Ministry, we remained focused on our mission, no matter what the circumstances.
I am immensely proud of the fact that we did not curtail any of our services over the past year. The bravery and resourcefulness of our staff ensured that the doors of our Youth Housing Programs stayed open and the Health Outreach Bus and Street Medicine Team remained on the road and out in the community. For every challenge we encountered, we found a solution. Each solution had its foundation in the answer to this simple but powerful question: how do we continue to provide housing, health care, and human connection while keeping our clients, staff, and volunteers as safe as possible?
And so, yes, The Night Ministry adapted to "a new normal," as we developed protocols to safeguard the health of those whom we serve and those who serve with us.However, we not only kept our programs running, but we expanded our services to match the evolving needs of our clients as well.And in some ways, this reflected the "old normal" at The Night Ministry. Homelessness is an incredibly complex challenge which requires persistent, adaptive, and multifaceted approaches, something The Night Ministry has excelled at developing for decades. It is in The Night Ministry's DNA to meet challenges with innovative solutions. And that is what we have done over the last twelve months.For example:
It was also a year of unprecedented progress at The Night Ministry, during which we realized long-term strategic goals and launched an exciting housing program which is the first of its kind for the agency.
The dedication and professionalism of The Night Ministry's staff has been instrumental in the organization's ability to thrive over the past year. They have shown up for those whom we serve, and each other, day after day, while enhancing our services to provide better outcomes for our clients. I am incredibly grateful to work alongside them.
Back in April, we began welcoming our volunteers back to our programs. We had gone several months without their presence at our Health Outreach Bus and Youth Housing Programs, as a safety precaution. Their return is a sign of hope and renewal as we close out this fiscal year and look forward to the next one. Yet even in their absence, our volunteers, along with our other supporters and friends, were very much present with us and those whom we serve, in deeds and in spirit. Like so many of you, they dropped off meals and collected essentials such as clothing, tents, and sleeping bags. As so many of you did, they called our office, asking what they could do to help, and inquired about the well-being of our clients and staff.
The outpouring of support, dedication, and careI have witnessed from members of The Night Ministry community, from staff to volunteers and supporters, over the last year has demonstrated that, yes, we have been in this together. But we will continue to be together when the pandemic ends. It's not the pandemic that has united us. It is our mission, our genuine compassion for our fellow human beings, our sincere desire to help people improve their lives, and our capacity to bring about positive, meaningful change. And I thank you for being with us. We simply cannot fulfill our mission without you!
Paul W. Hamann, MA, MNA
President & CEO