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Veterans Day

Veterans from the Member Chimers perform the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" on Nov. 11, 2016, during the Veterans Day ceremony at the Wisconsin Veterans Home-Union Grove. The state Department of Veterans Affairs has announced it lost a $500,000 federal grant for a program providing housing for homeless veterans at the Union Grove facility. 

DOVER — The Racine County area already struggles to provide housing for homeless veterans, advocates say.

Things won’t get any easier with the end of a homeless program at the Wisconsin Veterans Home at Union Grove, 21425 Spring St., at the Southern Wisconsin Center campus in Dover. The state Department of Veterans Affairs has announced it lost a grant of about $500,000 for its Veteran Housing and Recovery Program, which serves 28 people.

The state will no longer accept new admissions and will immediately begin transitioning veterans there now into new housing, said Daniel Zimmerman, secretary of the department, in a letter Friday.

Federal funding for the Dover facility, known as Cottage 16, is due to end in September. The state may fund services through December if necessary, according to the letter. Federal funding also was eliminated for the homeless program at the state’s King home.

“I will personally ensure that each veteran is compassionately placed and cared for during this situation,” Zimmerman said.

However, the need for housing for veterans in the Racine area was already not being met, said Jeff Gustin, co-founder and director of Veterans Outreach of Wisconsin.

Gustin and his group have worked since last year on building tiny houses for homeless veterans. Fifteen are planned to be completed before the winter at the Veterans Outreach headquarters, 1624 Yout St., Racine.

With news of services ending at the Southern Center, the effort to finish the homes has intensified, Gustin said.

“Even with that facility up and running, there was a still homeless veteran problem,” Gustin said. “Now with that facility closing, it’s not going to be good.”

Seeking alternatives

In the letter, Zimmerman said the department is is working with veteran service organizations and nonprofits on new housing. Gustin said his group received a call from a Union Grove staff member asking if Veterans Outreach had any openings.

“They are scrambling right now to find places for these men to go,” Gustin said. “They’re actively making phone calls right now looking for a place to put these people.”

A spokeswoman for the state Department of Veterans Affairs said the department “will absolutely be following up and tracking these veterans as they move forward.”

The department is also expanding its Veterans Outreach and Recovery Program. In that program, case managers work with homeless veterans on housing and help connect them with substance abuse services, if needed.

“While the federal government’s decision is disappointing, we will adapt, innovate and lead,” Zimmerman said in the letter.

A spokesman for House Speaker Paul Ryan, who represents Racine County, said his office will work with state and local officials “to ensure these veterans continue to receive the care and treatment they need.”

Warning came in December

In December, the federal U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs released a notice saying certain grants for Veterans Affairs homeless providers would be terminated. The agency said the program is transitioning from its current form into a competitive grant process.

The transition comes as the number and range of federally funded housing services for homeless veterans are greater than they were when the grant program was established more than 20 years ago, according the agency.

The new process “will allow the department and grantees to refocus programs and resources to better serve the homeless veteran population,” the notice states.

A spokesperson for the department could not be reached for further comment.

The Union Grove-area program began operation in 1997 as Vets Place Southern Center. It has the capacity for 30 people to stay at a time.

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