Westside Health Authority (WHA) is a 501(c)3 organization serving the Austin neighborhood and the greater Westside of Chicago since 1988. Local residents make up the base of our engaged and committed coalition of stakeholders; they are the authority on the needs of their own community and provide the directives on how the organization can be most impactful. Using public and private resources, WHA provides the services and support needed to help neighbors and families build a better community.
WHA envisions a future in which all of Chicago’s residents are contributing members of safe and sustainable communities. By tapping into the skills and resources of community members, WHA empowers those who are often perceived as victims. By combining their efforts with support from local institutions and businesses, healthy neighborhoods can emerge, replacing blight and violence with opportunity and growth.
WHA’s mission is to use the capacity of local residents to improve the health and well-being of the community. For WHA, health is defined broadly to include the social and physical environment which contributes to the mental, physical and spiritual well-being of a person. It also includes relationships with family, friends and neighbors, and the ability to find stable employment.
Founded in 1988, the Westside Health Authority began as a coalition of parents, churches, healthcare providers and community-based organizations that worked to successfully prevent the closure of St. Anne’s Hospital. Since then, the agency has continued to leverage resources and relationships to promote wellness and development for Chicago’s Westside neighborhoods.
During its nearly three decades of operation, the Westside Health Authority has succeeded in being more than a service-provider, but a place that encourages and enables growth, engagement, and positive change. Notable among WHA’s success stories are:
- Every Block A Village: WHA formed an initiative which works with “citizen leaders” to find solutions to problems identified in the community; organizing local residents to create networks of support on over 100 blocks in Austin.
- Austin Wellness Center: Citizen leaders and Austin residents raised the initial funds ($60,000) necessary to build the 28,000 square foot Austin Wellness Center, which is home to the Austin Cook County Clinic and other health providers. The state-of-the-art facility was completed in 2004 with 80% minority contractors and relied on workers from the local labor force. The Center was the first new construction in Austin that was not a church or school in forty years, and sparked development and investment in the surrounding areas.
- Community Re-Entry Services: In addition to operating one of Chicago’s two “one-stop-shops” offering life-building services for ex-offenders returning to their communities, Westside Health Authority developed and facilitates the state-wide Community Support Advisory Council (CSAC). Comprised of clergy, support service providers, community building organizations, and others, CSAC works to establish strategies for working together to reduce recidivism rates.
- Employment Services: With more than 1000 client visits monthly, WHA has placed and trained more than 10,000 residents – including youth, veterans, ex-offenders, and homeless individuals – in jobs since 2005.
WHA has operated out of the Austin community of Chicago since the organization’s founding in 1988. With more than 98,000 people living within 7 square miles, Austin has the largest population and one of the largest land areas of Chicago’s 77 officially defined neighborhoods (2010 Census). It is bordered by the suburbs of Cicero to the south and Oak Park to the west. The rest of the community is buffered from other residential neighborhoods by the Eisenhower Expressway toward the northern border and industrial districts to the east.
The community’s history is marked by decades of growth followed by decline with the exodus of predominantly white residents in response to persistent infrastructure problems, disinvestment, mortgage redlining, and blockbusting. Since the 1960s, Austin’s population and demographics have shifted to a predominantly African American community, with a median household income of $37,123. The population is getting increasingly younger as well, with one-fifth of Austin residents being between the ages of 6 and 17 years old in 2010.
- Asian – 0.58%
- Black – 85.1%
- Latino – 8.85%
- White – 4.43%
- Other – 1.03%