He struggled with PTSD after Vietnam. Now he's helping provide sanctuary for other veterans.

 
 
Updated 12/6/2018 6:07 AM
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  • Bob "Doc" Adams, the co-founder of the Midwest Shelter for Homeless Veterans in Wheaton.

      Bob "Doc" Adams, the co-founder of the Midwest Shelter for Homeless Veterans in Wheaton. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Bob "Doc" Adams, bottom of photo, at Khe Sanh, Vietnam, in 1968.

    Bob "Doc" Adams, bottom of photo, at Khe Sanh, Vietnam, in 1968.

  • Bob "Doc" Adams, the co-founder of the Midwest Shelter for Homeless Veterans in Wheaton, says helping other veterans has been one of the great passions of his life.

      Bob "Doc" Adams, the co-founder of the Midwest Shelter for Homeless Veterans in Wheaton, says helping other veterans has been one of the great passions of his life. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

Bob "Doc" Adams was haunted for decades by the memory of his tour of duty during the Vietnam War.

As a Navy hospital corpsman attached to a Marine Corps rifle platoon in 1968 and 1969, Adams saw and experienced things he would never forget.

When he returned home, he struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder and self-medicated with alcohol. But he got sober in 1985 and changed his life dramatically.

After earning a master's degree in social work, Adams became a clinical social worker so he could use his experience to help others. Then, in the late 1990s, he came across the New England Shelter for Homeless Veterans and discovered what would become his life's passion -- to provide transitional living services to homeless veterans in the Chicago area.

In 2007, Adams co-founded the Midwest Shelter for Homeless Veterans in Wheaton. The not-for-profit organization provides a variety of services -- including transitional and affordable housing, counseling and job training -- to veterans of any era to help them out of homelessness and back to useful, productive lives.

"Of all the many things to fear in combat, the thing we feared the most was to leave a comrade behind," said Adams, a 71-year-old Winfield resident. "That was the guiding spirit behind this."

The group started with a single-family home that provides transitional housing for five veterans. It has since added two other locations that provide affordable housing to low-income, single male and female veterans, respectively. There's also a program offering single-unit apartments to chronically homeless veterans.

In 2013, the Midwest Shelter opened the Freedom Commissary in its administrative building at 433 S. Carlton Ave. in Wheaton. The commissary is a place where low-income veterans and their families can shop for free clothing, household items and other basic needs. It serves more than 200 veteran households each year.

"When we first opened, we could serve between 10 and 15 veterans a year," Adams said. "And now with all these programs, we're serving between 300 and 400 veterans a year."

Adams first envisioned the shelter back in the late 1990s, but he wasn't able to pull it off until he joined forces with co-founder Dirk Enger in 2004.

"It became an obsession for both of us," he said.

Enger, a Gulf War veteran from Winfield, said they were fortunate they decided to open the shelter in Wheaton. He said the support they received from other charities, faith-based groups and organized labor was "outstanding."

"We couldn't have picked a better community," Enger said.

The effort also benefited from how much Adams wanted to see a longtime dream become a reality.

"Once you let Bob speak and people see his passion, that's what made this shelter," Enger said.

Adams retired from the Midwest Shelter's board at the end of 2016, but remains involved with the group.

"It's one of the great passions of my life to be involved in helping veterans," Adams said. "I've been blessed."

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