Due to cuts in the federal housing program, the Veterans Housing and Recovery Program at King and Union Grove are slated to close down in 2018.
Established in 1994, the program serves homeless veterans and veterans at risk of becoming homeless by offering them job training, education, counseling and rehabilitation services.
Veteran service organizations and non-profit partners are expected to find homes for the 19 veterans at King and 28 veterans now in the Union Grove facilities, according to a letter sent from Daniel Zimmeran, secretary to the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs to homeless veteran advocates.
Racine County Eye received a copy of the letter Friday afternoon from Steve Jensen, who is with the Combat Vets Motorcycle Association. The non-profit organization has helped raise money and collected donations for the Vet’s Place Southern Center, which is funded through the state and the Veterans Housing and Recovery Program.
“They are shutting it down because of federal funding and they say there’s another program to transition to, but that program doesn’t exist here,” Jensen said.
The King and Union Grove sites is funded through Sept. 30. But — if needed — could be funded through December 2017, the letter reads.
“Although we thoroughly examined the possibility, WDVA solely funding King and Union Grove VHRPs beyond December 2017 is not feasible,” Zimmerman wrote.
Going forward, Union Grove and King will no longer accept new admissions.
In the meantime, state officials plan to expand a state-run program called the Veterans Outreach and Recovery Program (VORP), which helps homeless and chronically homeless veterans get access to housing and support for behavioral health treatment and substance abuse services. The program operates in 49 counties and the WDVA plans to “expand and redevelop” the program to 65 counties. With that said, the letter points to Racine County as “service-saturated” and the state-run program will “continue operating separately but in close collaboration with VORP.”
“I will personally ensure that each Veteran is compassionately placed and cared for during this situation,” Zimmerman wrote in the letter. “…. While the Federal government’s decision is disappointing, we will adapt, innovate, and lead.”
But Jensen said VORP does not exist in Racine County.
“Some Veterans in Cottage 16 may be being treated for either alcohol or addiction issues,” Jensen said. “By closing this facility they are being taken out of a controlled environment where they are getting treatment and being out back on the street if they cannot find a place to live. If they have not completed their treatment, they are right back into that environment.
Jensen pointed to a statistic that 22 veterans a day commit suicide.
“The Federal VA might have well handed these Veterans a gun with a bullet and let them play Russian Roulette.”
However, the Homeless Assistance Leadership Outreach (HALO) program still has veterans services. The program also works closely with the Racine County Veterans Affairs office and the Center for Veterans Issues to help homeless veterans access the services they need, said Holly Anderson Anderle, a member of HALO’s board.
The tiny homes project — spearheaded by the Veterans Outreach of Wisconsin — in Racine isn’t open yet because they are using volunteers to do the work and the construction season has been busy.
The group plans on building a total of 15 tiny homes from scratch in three phases. The first phase included building five homes and a community center that will have counselors specializing in alcohol and other drug treatment, and mental health issues. The second and third phase will include adding five more houses. Three homes will be arranged together around a common space, which will include a deck, sidewalk and landscaping.
The homeless veterans can stay on the property for up to two years.
Jeff Gustin, the director of the Veterans Outreach of Wisconsin issued the following statement:
“With the recent disturbing news of the King and Union Grove homeless Veteran facilities closing we are pushing more than ever to complete the James A Peterson Veteran Village. It is very disappointing that the Federal Government would cut funding leaving Veterans on the streets. We will be working tirelessly to complete construction so we may give a hand up to our heroes in need.”
Racine County Eye has reached out the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs and will update the story when they return the call.If you would like to volunteer to help the Veterans Outreach of Wisconsin, please contact them at (262) 221-8350.