MILWAUKEE — The City of Milwaukee is following Racine’s lead and has announced that it is moving toward creating a village of tiny homes for veterans at risk of homelessness.

In fall 2017, Veterans Outreach of Wisconsin opened a 15-home village to provide free housing to homeless military veterans at 1624 Yout St.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett visited the village in July and quickly got the ball rolling to bring a similar village to Wisconsin’s biggest city, in large part thanks to the advocacy of Milwaukee Alderwoman Chantia Lewis.

“A veteran is one step away from being homeless when we are discharged,” Lewis, an Air Force veteran, said Wednesday, July 31. “When I visited the Racine property, I was blown away by how the village looked … You can feel the love in each unit.”

“This is a win for our community,” Barrett added. “Racine has been a real leader here. Hats off to our neighbors to the south.”

Milwaukee’s village is planned for the north side of the city. The seven-acre space will have room for 48 tiny homes, more than three times as many as there are in Racine. The new homes would measure 240 square feet each.

At the center of the village would be a main building, similar to the setup in Racine, where staff, security and services — such as weekly Alcoholics Anonymous meetings to courses on budgeting money to community showers — would be located.

“We don’t want them (the veterans) to be isolated, and we don’t want them to isolate themselves,” Barrett said.

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In the 20 months since Racine’s James A. Peterson Veteran Village opened, eight vets have moved out into permanent housing, said Tim Lawrence, the chairman of the board for Veterans Outreach of Wisconsin. All 15 homes currently have a vet living in them, and there’s a waitlist for other vets to move in.

To move the plan forward, Milwaukee’s common council and redevelopment authority will need to agree to sell the land to Veterans Outreach of Wisconsin, which would operate the village.

The sale is expected to be finalized in October, at the price of $35,000. No timeline has been established yet for when the village could take in its first residents.

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Wider effort

Lawrence said the expansion won’t stop in Milwaukee, mentioning he’d like to get a village established in Madison.

In 2017, Veterans Outreach Director of Development Fiona Murphy presented the project to the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Miami and said she got good reception from city leaders nationwide who were interested in bringing a tiny home village to their municipalities.

Earlier this year, a tiny home village for homeless people in Janesville was proposed, also citing Racine as an inspiration.

Lewis and leaders from Veterans Outreach shared a hope that the model idea could be adapted to provide homes to anyone who is homeless, not just veterans.

“The sky is the limit,” Lawrence said.

The proposed village isn’t the only project underway that is looking to provide housing to homeless vets in Milwaukee. The Soldiers Home, a Civil War era facility that once housed as many as 1,000 veterans, is in the process of being refurbished and reopened near the campus of the Zablocki VA Medical Center. It is expected to open in fall 2020, with room for 80 servicemen and servicewomen who are at risk of homelessness.

According to the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, there were 332 homeless veterans in Wisconsin as of January 2018 — accounting for approximately 6.8% of the total statewide homeless population.

And as of 2015, one in every four of Wisconsin’s homeless was living in Milwaukee County, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. At the time, the federal government recorded 168 people (veterans and non-veterans) who were homeless in Racine County, far fewer than the 1,521 total living in Milwaukee County.

“Racine has been a real leader here. Hats off to our neighbors to the south.” Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett

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