MILWAUKEE — The Victorian Gothic Old Main building on the Milwaukee Soldiers Home campus has a new but familiar purpose more than 150 years after it first opened to house Civil War veterans.
"Here in 2021, we're fulfilling the mission of putting veterans and families into a home who are either homeless or at risk of being homeless. So this is a great win not only for the City of Milwaukee but for the state of Wisconsin," said Eduardo Garza, President/CEO of the Center for Veterans Issues.
The center worked with The Alexander Company, the Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee, the Milwaukee VA Medical Center, and several other groups for years to restoring six buildings to serve Wisconsin veterans and providing 101 housing units.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development estimated in 2020 there were 337 homeless veterans in Wisconsin.
The doors to the $44 million project opened this year and since then qualifying veterans have been moving in.
"It’s just beautiful to watch and to see them smile and give a thumbs up when they walk in their apartment," Garza said as he remembered move-in day.
"It was surreal. It was hard to believe honestly," said Nic Dietzler, one of the veterans who calls the Old Main building home.
"It’s so quiet. I get the best sleep," Dietzler said as he raved about his bed. "After having slept in some pretty, not desirable places it’s pretty awesome."
The Marine, who struggled with homelessness while transitioning back to civilian life, said opening up about his story to his care providers at the VA made all the difference.
Dietzler now works at the VA which is just steps away from his home. He believes this moment is launching him into the life he has always wanted.
"It’s just crazy how sometimes the doors that you have been praying for so long to open, all of the sudden suddenly you find yourself walking through," Dietzler said.
"We want to make sure we show our gratitude for the veterans who have raised their hand to take an oath to serve our country, and when there is a time of need we should be coming together as Americans to make sure that they have what they need," Garza said.
The campus offers more than permanent housing. There is also a fitness center, community space, counseling services, and a resource center.
It is leased at 50 percent. Organizers are working to reach more veterans.
If you want to learn more head to milwaukeesoldiershome.com or call 1-877-4AID-VET.