RACINE — Just four months since it accepted its first resident, the James A. Peterson Veteran Village, 1624 Yout St., is at capacity.
Since the end of November, the Veteran Village has been housing homeless veterans in the Racine County area and providing services such as financial coaching, Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous meetings, art and music therapy, tai chi and community meals to help provide residents the tools they need to maintain a stable housing situation.
Jeff Gustin, director and co-founder of Veterans Outreach of Wisconsin, said since the first resident moved into the residence in November “we’re basically full.” But that does not surprise Gustin. In fact, he said it actually took a bit longer than expected to get to the 15-person capacity.
Besides being a completely alcohol- and drug-free property, one of the main focuses for those who are housed at the veterans village is finding a job for them and teaching them to properly manage their finances.
So far, five residents who came to the veteran village jobless have obtained jobs, Gustin said. But some of the vets are 100 percent disabled and have difficulty finding work and live off of programs like Social Security.
“They do have that fixed income, which once they relearn how to manage their money, (they) will be able to make it successfully,” Gustin said.
Shannon Goodman, resident coordinator, said she works with each of the residents every week to find out what they need and how to help them move forward in their lives.
“We do check in on how they’re doing mentally, physically, emotionally,” Goodman said. “Then we work on a few small goals for them in different areas.”
Goals could be as simple as applying for a job, going to a doctor’s appointment or attending a meeting to manage their substance abuse.
One vet’s story
Glen Hauser joined the U.S. Army at age 17, he’s been married and divorced, has owned a string of businesses but near the end of August, the 53-year-old found himself homeless.
“I was renting a room from a guy and (one day) all my stuff was sitting outside,” Hauser said. “My rent was paid up, but I got into a beef with him about 10 days before that.”
He was tossed out on the street — “illegally evicted is what you would call it,” Hauser contends — and started living in Cottage 16, a facility for homeless veterans run at the state Department of Veterans Affairs facilities at the Southern Wisconsin Center campus in Dover.
At Cottage 16, Hauser said he was living with about 30 other people.
“It was almost like a hospital setting, really,” Hauser said. “I wanted a change.”
After seeing a story on TV, Hauser found that change in the Veteran Village. There he was given his own tiny home and access to their resources.
Hauser has been living there for the past two months. With nothing but good things to say about the Veteran Village — “I love this place, there’s so much opportunity. The people that run the place are just fantastic,” Hauser said — he is nonetheless looking to get out as soon as he can.
“I probably won’t be living here within a few months,” Hauser said. “While it’s nice … you can see our facility is fantastic, beautiful kitchen, nice recreation room, my little house is good … but I’d rather have my own place.”
And that is the facility’s goal; after Hauser and other current occupants get their own places, more veterans will be in need of the facilities at the Veteran Village.
“This is not where I want to be, but it’s a good place to be to get back on your feet,” Hauser said. “All of us are here for some reason, a little bit broken or whatever … I can understand how somebody can get in a depression seeing their buddy get blown up.”
Group activities help veterans
While all of the volunteers help the veterans work through their issues, Gustin said he wishes the group could find an evening counselor for those veterans who work and miss sessions with the regular volunteer counselor in the morning.
Gustin is also looking for different opportunities to take the veterans off site for fun activities.
“They’re working hard to recover from their state of homelessness,” Gustin said. “We don’t want to keep them trapped here.”
Recently, the Milwaukee Admirals gave Veterans Outreach tickets to a game and a local company donated use of a 15-person van to take the veterans to the game.
“Things like that fall into place that really help us along,” Gustin said. “We had a blast.”
The event also was important to some of the veterans who have issues being in crowds.
“Because they were able to go with their peers that they live here with, they were comfortable,” Gustin said. “You can’t get out into the workforce if you can’t encounter other people.”
During the process to create the Veteran Village, students from several local high schools built tiny houses and a plaque with the school’s name was placed on the outside of the doors of the homes built by the schools.
Local Boy Scout troops and other groups have donated food. Gustin said community groups or individuals will often come to cook a meal for the residents.
Despite the outpouring of support, Veterans Outreach applies for grants to maintain the village but was recently denied a $25,000 grant from the Wisconsin Department of Veteran Affairs.
Gustin said the money would have been used to help feed 15 residents three meals a day for the entire year.
“That was a pretty hard blow,” Gustin said. “We have just added to our fundraising efforts and we’re going to make it up that way through private donations. By no means is that (grant denial) going to slow us down.”
One ongoing fundraiser allows for individuals or groups to buy bricks that are then put on the patio at the village. The bricks range from $50 for a 4- by 8-inch brick to $500 for a 16- by 16-inch brick.
“It’s a really good fundraiser for us but more importantly it’s a way for our residents to see right there in the middle of the courtyard all the support they have,” Gustin said.
Also, the Student Nurses Association at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside is planning a “Casino Royale” event from 5-10 p.m. on April 21 at the Moose Lodge, 3003 30th Ave., Kenosha. Tickets are $20 with all of the proceeds going to Veteran’s Outreach.
“The community helps build the whole thing,” Gustin said. “In a big way, the community is still helping to run it as well.”
Gustin said he has been in contact with the director of the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center in Milwaukee, whom Gustin said plans to tour the village with staff members.
“I’m really looking forward to that visit because we’re all in this together,” Gustin said.