Our Stories

A welcoming space for vets at risk

Architects have long known that the aesthetics of our surroundings have a profound effect on quality of life. Community developers are in on the secret, too. Such was the goal in transforming a dilapidated 1925 building in central Milwaukee, with LISC’s help, into a comfy, light-flooded resource center for vets at risk of homelessness, according to a Journal Sentinel article.

The below excerpt is sourced from:
"New center a welcoming presence for vets at risk of homelessness"
by Tom Daykin, Journal Sentinel

For Milwaukee's new veterans Community Resource and Referral Center, officials wanted something that wasn't a drab government office.

What they got is a restored historic building, featuring three skylights, large front windows, exposed brick and an atmosphere much like a Historic Third Ward workplace.

The center, at 1818 N. King Drive, provides services for veterans who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. It opened in December and recently was nominated for a community development award.

Community Resource and Referral Center - Milwaukee, WI (Molly Rippinger, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service)
Community Resource and Referral Center - Milwaukee, WI (Molly Rippinger, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service)

"We modernized the building without losing the historic touches," said Gary Kunich, a public affairs officer at the Milwaukee medical center of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which operates the resource center.

"We wanted it to be welcoming, well-lighted and comfortable," said Barbara Gilbert, program manager for the Milwaukee VA's homeless prevention programs. "Not drab and dreary."

The 7,500-square-foot building was sold a year ago to an affiliate of development firm Wangard Partners Inc. for $525,000, according to state real estate records.

Wangard spent about $2 million to renovate the building and is leasing it to the department for 10 years. The VA is paying about $195,000 in annual rent, Kunich said.

Originally built in 1925 for a moving company, the building was last used by the nonprofit Strive Media Institute Inc., which closed in 2008. Wangard demolished another smaller building on the parcel to create 25 off-street parking spaces for VA employees and visitors.

The building was a mess when VA officials first visited it in spring 2013. There was mold on the walls, water from roof and wall leaks, no lights and scattered debris, Gilbert said.

Despite being "kind of a dismal site," the building offered enough space in an accessible central city location, on a bus line, to serve homeless vets, Gilbert said. That led agency officials to sign the lease with Wangard, which began renovations in October 2013. Continued[+]...