West Side Church Provides a Safe Haven for Chicago Veterans

By Xinyi (Ethel) Jiang
Medill Reports

More than a hundred Austin neighbors from the West Side gathered on the Saturday before Thanksgiving to celebrate and honor the service of veterans at the Healing Temple Church.

This “Musical and Award Luncheon” is part of the “Standup for Veterans” program sponsored by the Arthur Lockhart Resource Institute. Every month, the institute provides African-American veterans with resources and referrals for housing, employment opportunities and mental health services.  

Veterans have dinner at the Healing Temple Church. (Xinyi Jiang/MEDILL)

Ike Dowsey, JR. served as an ordnance specialist for the Marines from 1976 to 1982. During his time in service, Dowsey lost a lot of comrades.

“It’s deep,” said Dowsey. “But still you had to do your job. You had to be able to get your strength from somewhere else.”

“That (the war) changes you, as a person, and that’s why a lot of veterans need help,” said Murray Williams, a volunteer at the Lockhart institute.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 20 percent of post-9/11 veterans and 30 percent of Vietnam vets have been diagnosed with post traumatic dress disorder (PTSD). The cost of treating a veteran with PTSD is roughly $8,300 a year —over three times the amount spent on unaffected veterans, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

David Rogers, director of Coalition of Veterans Organizations (Xinyi Jiang/MEDILL)

“Veterans that cannot or will not go to the VA have a resource in their community that can be that bridge,” said David Rogers, director of the Coalition of Veterans Organizations. Rogers, a PTSD sufferer himself, believes it’s important for those living with PTSD or other service-related conditions to share their experiences with fellow veterans.

Dr. Elizabeth Lockhart, executive director of Arthur Lockhart Resource Institute (Xinyi Jiang/MEDILL)

The Lockhart institute provides food and organizes activities every third Friday. Meeting at the dinner table, veterans in the community have relaxing talks like a family. “Veterans are a different kind of group. They are very private,” said Dr. Elizabeth Lockhart, executive director of the Institute.

Support from the private sector is especially important now as federal programs are failing to meet the needs of the more than 20 million veterans in the United States.

“Despite of all the great talk about our love for veterans, much of that, with some of the people in government, is nothing more than conversation,” said U.S. Rep. Danny Davis.

U.S. Rep. Danny Davis is awarding veterans. (Xinyi Jiang/MEDILL)

“If we hadn’t been here today in this church with these veterans, there wouldn’t be lunch, so that they can sit and eat and talk and enjoy themselves,” said Davis, “The church is the instrument for change, especially in black life.”

According to The NonProfit Times, around 400,000 non-profit organizations, including churches, touch veteran issues such as homelessness, unemployment, mental health care, reintegration, and others.

Over 20 veterans commit suicide every day, according to Lockhart. “Whatever we can do, we can continue to give life to them, and eliminate one or two suicides a day, that we wanna keep doing that,” said Lockhart.

Photo at top: Marine veteran Ike Dowsey, JR. sings at the “Musical and Award Luncheon.” (Xinyi Jiang/MEDILL)