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Heartland Alliance: Justice Through Healing

Michael Shannon O’KeefeMay 10, 2018

In the late 1800s, Chicago was a hotbed of economy, immigration, social change, architecture, and education. Rebuilding from the ashes of the 1871 Great Chicago Fire, the next two decades witnessed the founding of the University of Chicago, the epicenter of US advertising, the building of the world’s first skyscraper, the founding of two internationally renowned art museums, and the genesis of the ‘L’ inner city railroad. However, this was not solely a time of prosperity.

Evidence of extreme civil unrest and prejudice can be found in examples like the Unsightly Beggar Ordinance, the Haymarket Massacre of 1886, and the Great Railroad Strike of 1877. Add to this extreme class division the large influx of European immigrants already beginning to escape the tightening noose of persecution in pre-WWI Europe, and you have a powder keg of humanity without the means to fulfill their basic needs for shelter, sustenance, and social integration.

Image: Founder Jane Addams speaks with young visitors at Hull House, the first location of Heartland Alliance. (source)

In this historical context devoid of compassion, Jane Addams, considered by many as the pioneer battling poverty in Chicago, founded Heartland Alliance in 1888. Within the first century of its inception, Heartland Alliance re-connected families separated at Ellis Island, helped stabilize the refugees of two World Wars, offered housing, food, and employment during the Great Depression, and was one of the first Chicago organizations to open clinics providing mental and physical healthcare to the homeless. Now also reaching Madison, Milwaukee, and twenty other countries worldwide, Heartland Alliance works to serve those who are homeless, living in poverty, or seeking safety. They offer a full array of services in the areas of health, justice, job creation, and housing, and lead state and national policy efforts with the aim of effecting lasting change for individuals and society.

Today, the organization serves over 500,000 people each year, including refugees, the ill, the homeless, and those seeking justice by connecting them with the right services and resources. The organization also assists youth and families through programs like early childhood and literacy, K-12 advocacy, substance abuse prevention, youth mentoring, and a refugee summer camp. These services help newly arrived refugee children and their families integrate into their new communities and work toward empowerment and self-sufficiency.

Image: Heartland Alliance Health (source)

Heartland Alliance Health is the leading healthcare provider for the homeless and the ill. They deliver effective, responsive primary, oral and behavioral healthcare across the city of Chicago with health centers on the city’s North, West, and South sides. Their outreach and engagement teams also bring healthcare to those who need it most, be it on the streets, in shelters, grocery centers, or affordable housing facilities.

Heartland Housing serves communities by developing and operating affordable, permanent, and supportive housing developments. The program believes that having a place to call home is fundamental to an individual’s success. Their approach to affordable housing revolves around a resident-driven design process, high quality, environmentally sustainable construction, responsive management, and an array of supportive services that help residents build the life they envision.

Heartland Alliance International (HAI) promotes change in the lives of individuals who have experienced violence and rights abuses. When inalienable rights are threatened, HAI works to restore them by providing specialized mental health care and access to legal services to improve the well-being of vulnerable individuals and restore justice for marginalized communities. With over 12 international offices, HAI currently offers programs in Latin America and the Caribbean, the Middle East and North Africa, and Sub-Saharan Africa. The following programs are just some of the ways that Heartland Alliance International continues to provide aid:

Image: Heartland Alliance International (source)

Heartland Human Care services provides a range of support services for multiple populations, including immigrants, refugees, low income individuals and families, and the homeless. Their Refugee and Immigrant Community Services department alone provides a vast array of programs, including:

Early Childhood Program serves the youngest refugees, ages 18 months to 5 years, by providing daily childhood and literacy instruction and integrating parents into the learning experience.

K-12 Program advocates on behalf of families with Chicago public school staff and administration to coordinate school registration for newly arrived refugee children, among other services.

America's future will be determined by the home and the school. The child becomes largely what he is taught; hence we must watch what we teach, and how we live.

-Jane Addams, founder of Heartland Alliance.

Youth Mentoring Program offers kids friendship, guidance, and academic assistance.

Girls' Group Program brings young women ages 13 to 18 together for skills training, peer bonding, and academic assistance.

Substance Abuse Prevention Program and their Refugee Youth Summer Program also stand out for providing young men and women ages 9 to 17 the tools and skills necessary to lead personally and professionally fulfilling lives through educational opportunities and wholesome recreational activities.

Image: Heartland Alliance Housing (source)

In 1987, Heartland Alliance also opened the Marjorie Kovler Center, one of the first torture treatment centers in the U.S. providing a delicate community response to politically sanctioned torture. Utilizing survivor based information, the center draws from Eastern and Western medicine to help individuals begin the healing process following physical and psychological trauma. The center, which explores multiple approaches and provides various language options, is completely free of charge. Advocating for these victims both nationally and internationally, the Marjorie Kovler Center also offers educational programs for communities and the medical field, as well as law enforcement and military organizations.

For the past 130 years, Heartland Alliance has continued to aid the poor, hungry, disadvantaged, and ill. Their generosity has helped millions in the quest for human rights and the just treatment of international communities. Unfortunately, this good comes at a price. To aid them in their continuation of these various national and international programs, contact, stop by the organization's Chicago headquarters, or visit The only way we can move forward to end poverty in our lifetime is to come together. To quote Heartland Alliance, “We need partners, advocates, dreamers, analysts, and doers. We need YOU.”

Editorial Contributions: Joseph Dutra, Joan Pabon.

Title Image: source