Racine building "tiny homes" for homeless veterans

Posted at 11:33 AM, Nov 22, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-22 13:55:44-05

A project aimed at helping homeless veterans find work and, eventually, permanent housing is progressing in Racine.

Veterans Outreach of Wisconsin is in the process of building 15 tiny houses for homeless veterans to live in.

A plan to eventually put the homes around a community center featuring a food pantry, laundry facilities, bathrooms, and a kitchen won final approval from the Racine Common Council last week.

On Tuesday, work continued to renovate the community center on a property at 1624 Yout St.

The homes will be located behind the renovated community center when it's done.

Jeff Gustin, of Veterans Outreach of Wisconsin, hopes to have the community center and the first five homes finished by January 1, weather permitting.

"Without the community center we can't house homeless vets," Gustin said. "We need both parts to come together."

The center will also provide meeting rooms to link veterans with services like PTSD support groups, or financial assistance and planning.

The goal is for veterans to live in the tiny homes and rely on those resources until they find permanent employment and save up enough money to move into long-term, sustainable housing.

Gustin said the largest hurdles remaining to getting the center up and running are the installation of storm sewers on the property and the pouring of concrete for the tiny homes to sit on.

Gustin said the group has not started advertising the project to any homeless veterans yet.

"We don't want to have them try to hang on out on the streets, trying to make it another month or two months until it's finished," he said. "We would like them to get off the streets immediately. So we will not be announcing this to the veterans, that it's even close to ready, until we're ready to put people in the houses."

Gustin hopes the tiny homes will be a regional resource -- and aren't just meant to help homeless veterans living in Racine.

Gustin said the cost to build the first five homes and acquire the property was $125,000.

Renovating the community center will cost approximately $50,000. Half of the money has already been raised.

The project is heavily reliant on volunteers.

Cheryl Wirkus, Iron Workers Local 8, helped with the construction of the homes in July. She's hoping to pitch in with the process of moving and installing them at the property on Yout Street.

"My son and his wife are in the U.S. Military. They're in the Air Force," Wirkus said. "So it really hits home with me. Anything I can to help, I'll definitely volunteer for."

"I think it's going to be a great benefit to the community," Wirkus added.

Gustin said Veterans Outreach of Wisconsin hopes to have the full project, including all 15 tiny homes, finished April 1.

"To be able to give back to those men and women who secured my freedoms, that's the whole reason everybody involved with this project does it," he said.

Anyone interested in volunteering can visit the Veterans Outreach of Wisconsin website here.