Ever since he got back from Vietnam in 1970, Jim Chancellor has been trying to help other veterans deal with the effects of their service, especially homelessness.
This winter, working with North Township Trustee Frank Mrvan, Calumet Township Trustee Kim Robinson, Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter, Lake County Superior Court Judge Julie Cantrell and area churches, Chancellor is offering one weekend a month of R&R and more for homeless vets.
“We’re giving vets a stress-free weekend,” Chancellor said. “I’m trying to work with guys on the street. The two trustees are sending out buses to bring guys back. We’re trying to build trust and be nonjudgmental. There’s always a reason they’re in the situation they’re in. If they share what the dilemma is, we can help them.”
Chancellor said he has no idea how many homeless veterans live in Northwest Indiana. For the first weekend of his effort, he wasn’t sure whether he’d be all alone or 30 or more vets would take advantage of the free meals, clothes, and offers to help them with anything from counseling for post traumatic stress disorder to temporary housing.
The vets stay at 1900 W. 41st Ave. in Gary. The first two weekend was held in November with another coming up Dec. 7-8. Two more are scheduled for Jan. 18-19 and Feb. 22-23 at the Gary site, the Calumet Township Multipurpose Center. It's part of Chancellor’s ongoing work as head of the nonprofit American Veterans Collection.
He describes his organization as working at the grass roots level to “make the basic and necessary medical assistance available to our homeless.” The organization tries to provide clothes, food, toiletries and shelter for the weekend through donations from people and organizations.
Chancellor s a survivor of PTSD as a result of being a door gunner on a helicopter in Vietnam for which he was awarded a Purple Heart and a Heroism Medal of Valor. While working as an advocate for veterans, he has built a network of people to help him in his efforts.
“I will spend the night with them, and, in the morning, I will try to get them the help they need,” he said.
He said he will show movies and provide games if the vets want. The weekends are a chance for the vets to just be themselves. Although most of the homeless vets are men, he said he is prepared to receive women too.
When the weekend is over, each veteran receives a cellphone and Chancellor’s phone number with the message to call him at any time they want his help.
“I’ve got someone who help them get a job or get an education or help with their schooling. I offer an opportunity for them to change their life. We have transitional housing if they want to get off the street. I have employers who will help them.
“A job will give them responsibility and a sense of self-worth. It has a huge impact on their psyche.”
He has lined up solutions for all the problems the veterans face. No transportation? Chancellor has buses to get them to their job.
People will be available at each weekend gathering to talk to them about things including mental health, jobs, service-related disabilities, housing, utility assistance, legal help, family counseling, credit building or repair, financial planning or training in a trade.
“They all have programs that can help,” he said. “It’s pretty easy to make it on the street in November, but it’s different when the worst winter weather arrives. We are going to get them and bring them in to talk about making a better life.
“I can show them there is a better way, but they have to accept it. If they are happy where they are, they won’t make the change. Until they are ready to make the change, there’s nothing we can do. We can put them in transitional housing that day, but, if they choose to live on the street, it is their choice."
Each person who shows up gets two meals each day. Chancellor said he has volunteers who will scour the streets and look under bridges hoping to help him reach as many homeless vets as possible.
He also needs donations to fund supplies, food and clothing. For more information about the organization and how to make donations, go to www.veteranscollection.com.