Monday, March 1, 2021

Homeless 'L' riders get Night Ministry care

Dr. Ralph Ryan advises a homeless patient (photo for the Sun-Times by Ashlee Garcia Rezin)

     This is the end of the line, literally. The CTA Blue Line terminates at Forest Park, where L trains arrive every 15 minutes, linger briefly, then begin their 26.9 mile return journey east to downtown then northwest to O’Hare.
     This is also the end of the line, figuratively, for Chicagoans whose combination of mental illness, bad luck, bad life choices and inability to manage in a bad, COVID-ravaged economy forces them to ride the trains tonight, seeking a warm, dry refuge on this 30 degree night at the end of February.
     “It’s been rough,” says Ladislao Vasquez, shortly after 9 p.m. He worked construction for 20 years, he says, but lost an eye after being shot. “Times are hard.”
     He is here because on Mondays and Wednesdays from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. the Night Ministry, the final strands of Chicago’s frayed social service net, runs a sort of field hospital/free commissary/clinic for the homeless, offering services of a social worker, piles of supplies—socks, hats, underwear, combs — paper bags of snacks, pallets of water and a nurse or, tonight, a doctor.
     “I’m setting up my office,” says Dr. Ralph Ryan, a retired cardiologist, unfolding a gray screen by a staircase in the station’s entry, to offer a shred of privacy to homeless patients as they explain their afflictions and addictions to him.
     What prompts a 69-year-old physician to leave the relative paradise of Elmhurst to treat homeless people for free six nights a month? The answer is deceptively simple.
     “I enjoy serving the underserved,” says Ryan, who has been doing this four years. “I started on the bus” — the rolling medical clinic bus that the Night Ministry sends into low-income areas of the city — ”then gravitated to street medicine.”

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  1. Rather than buy things for various gift giving occasions, our family has taken up making donations to favorite causes. We asked our son for a few of his favorites and The Night Ministry was one. Neil, as you illustrated in your column, they do incredible work. People like Dr. Ryan are very special indeed.

  2. Great story to share, thanks!

  3. I donate to causes I feel are the worthiest; after reading a past column of Neil’s on the Night Ministry, they are certainly included.

  4. Well this is certainly a change for the better in city policy. Back in the Richard M Daley years the police would wait at the end of line stations, forcing the homeless to leave the station preventing them from boarding a train going back the other way. Any arguing would result in an arrest for trespassing, sentence was about a $500 fine. Back then I had a hobby helping homeless people who seemed serious about getting off the street. Make sure they had descent cloths for job interviews, finding an apartment, letting them use the phone, being a personal reference, etc. Very annoying, these fines would show up on their credit check. You were part of the problem Mr. Daley, not part of the solution.

    1. You and Dr. Ryan have wonderful “hobbies “.

  5. Wonderful story. Thanks, Mr. S. No one should have to go without the basic necessities required for human dignity.

    Here in Cleveland, a local community organization that is concerned with the plight of the homeless started the SocksPLUS initiative six years ago, after learning that socks were, and still are, the most-requested item by the homeless. A ten-dollar donation buys ten pairs of socks. A larger donation provides socks PLUS (sorry for the pun) other desperately-needed necessities for the homeless.

    CTA rail ridership is down by TWO-THIRDS since 2019? That's a LOT. Social distancing is probably less of a problem with a decline like that.


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