MILWAUKEE — More than a century after it was first built, the Milwaukee Soldiers Home has been restored to serving our veterans in need.
The district, near the Milwaukee VA Medical Center and American Family Field, was designated a national landmark but fell into disrepair.
After a decade-long effort, a dedication ceremony outside the historic Old Main building and guided tours marked the campus' new life.
"There’s a sense of disbelief that this is a reality for these veterans and their families to be living in such a beautiful place, mainly because some of them have never been able to live in something like this that they could call home," said Lt. Ed Garza, President and CEO for the Center for Veterans Issues.
Six restored buildings provide 101 permanent supportive housing units for veterans and their families who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.
From 1867 to 2021...the #Milwaukee Soldiers Home has a new life serving veterans and their families who are homeless or on the brink of homelessness with permanent supportive housing. 6 buildings were restored to create 101 units. We got our first look inside today. pic.twitter.com/8LnwnXD0CP— Mary Jo Ola (@MaryJoOlaTV) May 27, 2021
The number of veterans experiencing homelessness is on the decline. However, in 2020, Wisconsin had an estimated 337 homeless veterans.
The team behind restoring the Soldiers Home Campus reported nearly 90 percent of the units are leased up after opening a couple of months ago.
"The demand is remarkable. It’s greater than what we even thought it would be," said Joe Alexander, President of The Alexander Company.
Qualifying tenants pay about 30 percent of their income.
"This is huge. Having a secure safe place to live just can’t be understated. It’s a huge determinant of health, so this is a great partnership for us and to have a place where they can call home and they feel safe," said James McLain, Deputy Director of the Milwaukee VA Medical Center.
The Old Main building now has scenic lounges with views of Milwaukee and American Family Field, a museum that tells the story of the Soldiers Home Campus, artwork on the walls, and more than a few historic touches.
Alexander said they sent a team to Vermont to get the right slates to match the existing roof on the Old Main building.
Tenants also have access to a wide range of services including counseling, medical support, job training, and recreational activities.
"For some individuals, life is a challenge. This gives them the chance to really have all those resources to bring everything back together again and get on level footing," McLain said.
The team behind this $44-million project, which was made up of public and private entities, called it a herculean effort, and it is one step to help the men and women who serve our country.