Heartland Alliance advances the human rights and responds to the human needs of endangered populations—particularly the poor, the isolated, and the displaced—through the provision of comprehensive and respectful services and the promotion of permanent solutions leading to a more just global society.
The genesis of Heartland Alliance for Human Needs & Human Rights was 125 years ago, when Chicago was the fastest growing city in the world. Then, as now, too many people were struggling to survive in poverty, were new to the city or marginalized from the mainstream, vulnerable to legal or medical or financial troubles. The motivations and values of the civic leaders who sought to address these issues are the DNA that still informs today’s Heartland Alliance.
Heartland Alliance was born in 1888, when Chicago became the second city to form a Travelers Aid organization. Newcomers moving to the city to look for work—particularly vulnerable youth and women—were able to visit Travelers Aid service centers around the city’s ports and rail stations and receive help with housing, employment and community resettlement.
These efforts were expanded by the work of Jane Addams and her colleagues at Hull House, when they founded the League for the Protection of Immigrants in 1908. The League advocated to ensure immigrant rights and worked to integrate immigrants into U.S. life, placing particular attention on legal protections for youth.
Over the next sixty years, both organizations worked steadily in Chicago to assist the poor and vulnerable whose lives were upended by the events of the day: migrating military personnel during WWI, the jobless and homeless during the Depression, those displaced from Europe by WWII, Southerners flocking to Chicago in the post-war years looking for industrial jobs. The groups operated rooming houses, particularly for women and children, provided legal protections and helped with economic security and opportunity.
In 1967, the two organizations with parallel missions merged into one: Travelers Aid of Metropolitan Chicago. In the 1970s, the organization was one of the first partners of the U.S. government’s new refugee resettlement program and began working in health care with an initiative to provide medical and dental care to migrants.
Changing its name in 1980 to become Travelers and Immigrants Aid, the organization continued to grow. We identified and formed some of the first responses in the nation to the growing issue of homelessness, including birthing the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, and helped found the AIDS Foundation of Chicago.
Heartland Alliance for Human Needs & Human Rights was formally adopted as the name of our organization in 1995 to best reflect our growing portfolio of housing, health care, economic security, and legal protections services. The experience, values, lessons, and programs of more than a century are connected in Heartland Alliance.