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Night Ministry webinar focuses on COVID-19 and the homeless
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times

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The Night Ministry hosted a Q&A webinar April 9 to address issues that affect people experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The non-profit organization, according to its website, "compassionately provides housing, health care, outreach, spiritual care and social services to adults and youth who struggle with homelessness, poverty and loneliness. We accept individuals as they are and offer support as they seek to improve their lives. We invite others to join this hope-filled work."

The Night Ministry Communications Senior Associate Burke Patten was the event moderator. Among the Night Ministry staffers on hand to answer questions were Outreach and Health Ministry Director David Wywialowski, Youth Programs Director Betsy Carlson, Advocacy and Community Affairs Manager Tedd Peso, and Community Health Manager Mary Poliwka.

Patten asked if the organization is seeing more demand for its services during this COVID-19 pandemic.

Wywialowski said that, in terms of the Health Outreach bus, staffers "are seeing fewer people, which is a good thing because that means people are following the precautions that have been put in place."

Poliwka spoke about how the people who are accessing the Street Medicine Van are "really hungry" because they are not able to generate income through panhandling to buy their own food. She added that the population that staff members serve are in more need of the van's services especially now because of their added fear of going to hospital emergency departments due to COVID-19.

As for the overall changes that have been made, Wywialowski said that, at the bus, staffers have been handing out educational flyers about the virus as well as focusing on providing food and basic medical care. He added that HIV and other STI testing have been suspended due to social-distancing issues and there is only limited case management.

Carlson said that there is a steady demand for the Night Ministry's youth programs, adding that for the few young people the organization has had to turn away, the city has made beds available elsewhere.

In terms of helping young people cope with sheltering in place, Carlson said the organization has added activities and provided incentives for staying indoors during this health crisis.

When asked how they are specifically helping young people who identify as LGBTQ, Carlson said the organization has always been open and affirming with that particular population, adding that The Night Ministry has not seen an uptick of LGBTQ youth needing access to their services in recent weeks—which she said was a good sign. Carlson said they are continuing to have LGBTQ youth access through the medical services Howard Brown Health provides, like in the past.

Patten asked Carlson about the overall changes made to the youth program.

Carlson responded that The Night Ministry reimagined how the spaces are utilized to accommodate social distancing. There is also staggered meal times and instead of the usual family-style dinner, there is only one server handing out food to everyone. Carlson spoke about how Lakeview Lutheran Church has provided more space in its building for The Crib, which is housed on its property.

In terms of why people experiencing homelessness are more vulnerable, Wywialowski said everything a person is expected to do to stay healthy right now is almost impossible for this population to do on a regular basis; in addition, individuals often have to deal with underlying medical and mental health conditions.

Poliwka added that their exposure risk is higher because they are sleeping in shelters, and access to soap and sanitizer is limited. She also spoke about the higher rates of death among Black people in the city due to COVID-19 and the fact that they also more likely to experience homelessness than any other racial group.

Patten asked what local and federal governments are doing and Peso said the city has brought out hand washing stations and provided beds at some facilities that have closed due to Mayor Lori Lightfoot's executive order.

Peso spoke about the third stimulus bill that was signed into law that addressed some of the needs of people experiencing homelessness and they are waiting for guidance on what that will entail including whether shelters can be used as addresses so everyone who stays there can receive a stimulus check.

In terms of personal protective equipment, Poliwka said they are having trouble finding masks and disposable covers for thermometers. She noted that donors have stepped up to give them some of the critical supplies they need to weather this pandemic.

Peso called on people to make a donation to The Night Ministry and/or provide meals for distribution if they are able. He also encouraged people, including elected officials, to volunteer at the various food pantries in the city and be advocates for people experiencing homelessness.

Poliwka added that the organization is also accepting handmade masks.

See .

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