Serving Those Who Have Served Our Nation
One of the most difficult things for newly enlisted military personnel is often getting through those first few weeks of basic training. It's certainly a big transition, but there's a lot of support to help with the adjustment to military life.
When soldiers, sailors, pilots and Marines leave the military, some of them also need a little assistance transitioning back into civilian living. In Milwaukee they might find that help through programs that are offered by the Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee (HACM), in partnership with the Veterans Administration (VA) and Milwaukee non-profits.
"These programs provide safe and affordable housing to veterans who would normally be homeless," says Tina Royalty, program management specialist for HACM. "Because they are able to remain in the program as long as they need to, it brings them stability and opens up the ability to focus on other elements in their life."
HACM uses the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) voucher program to house veterans who are homeless and who are willing to receive supportive services from the VA. The services used most frequently by VASH recipients include medical and case management services, food programming including Meals on Wheels, weekly grocery delivery from church groups, and the food programs that target homeless veterans.
Through the VASH program and other voucher options, HACM currently subsidizes housing for 270 previously homeless veterans.
Air Force Veteran Rodney June was among the group of veterans who moved in when Veterans Manor, a nationally-recognized joint project between Cardinal Capital Management, the Center for Veterans Issues and the VA, opened its doors in 2011.
"Before moving into Veterans Manor, I was at VETS Place Central, and rooming up with five guys at once," says June. "We all learned about the Veterans Manor program, the timeline and how we could sign up."
As a long-term resident of Veterans Manor, he enjoys having his own space and knowing he has the security of long-term housing. He enjoys living on his own and cooking his own meals, including recipes he learned from his mother.
"I have your basic, entry-level, one bedroom apartment," he says. "As long as I keep up my rent, I can stay in this unit forever. It's a nice place to be."
Joe Thomae of Cardinal Capital Management says that HACM's work with the veterans in Milwaukee is hard to beat.
"We work in a number of cities with these types of developments, and HACM is one of the best housing authorities in the nation with the level and quality of service they provide," he says. "The work they do with the residents of Veterans Manor is so important. This is a population that was certified 'homeless' - these are people who did live under bridges and on the streets at one time, and who don't have the income to find safe and secure housing on their own."
Thomae says that once veterans obtain housing at Veterans Manor, some do leave as they transition back into a self-supporting lifestyle. "But they don't have to," he stresses.
Milwaukee veterans are also supported through another collaborative effort at the Surgeon's Quarters, located on the VA grounds just west of Miller Park. This Single Room Occupancy is located in a historic building that dates to 1887. Formerly the home of the secretary and surgeon at the Milwaukee Soldier's Home, the Surgeon's Quarters building was refurbished by HACM in 2005 and has since provided 13 single occupancy rooms, with shared kitchens, living and dining areas.
"The veterans who live in the Surgeon's Quarters are typically referred to the program via their case manager or the VA," says Wendy Weckler, the interim executive director for Hope House, an agency that HACM collaborates with at this facility. "At no time are there less than 75 percent veterans living there, and most are referred to us through their VA case workers."
The proximity of the Surgeon's Quarter to the Milwaukee VA Medical Center is also quite helpful to residents.
"The Surgeon's Quarters is right on the VA grounds, and there's a shuttle system that takes residents where they need to go," Weckler says. "It's very convenient for them to access certain medical and supportive services."
HACM's Royalty says that both the Surgeon's Quarters and Veterans Manor are important in serving the needs of this specific veteran population in Milwaukee. She notes that cities that have excellent VA medical centers have an unusually high number of homeless veterans as they tend to stay so they can get necessary medical help, even if they are unable to afford housing on their own.
"Both of these facilities provide a comforting environment. The residents all can relate to each other; they've had similar experiences in the military and in how they've come to reside in these facilities," she says. "Secondly, they're served by very patient and understanding people who are accustomed to the issues they face on a daily basis."
Royalty is proud that HACM is able to serve the needs of veterans as part of its work in Milwaukee.
"This is a population that we should serve and handle with care, not just the veterans in our program, but those who served our country as a whole," she says. "These programs really do help veterans in our community."
Whether it's through the high quality housing it provides to hundreds of veterans in its own affordable properties or the housing it provides with enhanced services through the VASH and other programs, HACM strives every day to make sure that when veterans return home, it feels like home.