CHIPPEWA FALLS — A $2.4 million grant will help ensure homeless veterans staying in Chippewa Falls enjoy a little privacy and stand a better chance of staying healthy.
The Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs announced this week that it has been awarded $4.2 million from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to make capital improvements to three Veterans Housing and Recovery Program facilities in Wisconsin.
Of that money, $2.4 million will go to upgrade or replace Klein Hall, a facility in Chippewa Falls where veterans who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless can receive temporary housing, training and supportive services to help them obtain permanent housing, said Donald Placidi, administrator of the state Division of Veteran Benefits.
Klein Hall opened in December 2007 in a building that used to be part of the Northern Wisconsin Center for the Developmentally Disabled. The 30,400-square-foot, two-story building had its capacity expanded from 40 to 48 residents in 2020. Occupancy has been hovering around 40 people during the COVID-19 pandemic, officials said.
While the facility offers a mixture of single-, double- and triple-occupancy rooms, the grant is intended to get rid of shared bedrooms and bathrooms to improve safety during the COVID-19 pandemic and moving forward.
“This grant provides an opportunity to upgrade the current facility or purchase a new facility with a focus on creating individual living environments and moving away from communal living environments,” Placidi said. “This will help everyone get their own room.”
Klein Hall resident William Montgomery, 57, of Gary, Indiana, said he shared a room when he arrived at the facility in January but since has graduated to a single room.
“Everybody does want a single room,” said Montgomery, who did three overseas tours while serving in the U.S. Navy from 1982 to 1985. “That helps you out a little bit mentally.”
As for the safety implications of shifting to private rooms, Montgomery said he appreciates the government’s efforts despite the resistance by some people to vaccinations and masks that he sees as extending the pandemic.
“No matter what kind of pandemic we have or what kind of outbreak we go through, you’re going to have that element of people who are not going to get on the boat ... so all you can do is try to contain it the best that you can,” he said. “If you’re trying to stop this thing from spreading worldwide, you have to do what you can to help other humans worldwide.”
Placidi said state Veterans Affairs officials just learned of the grant award and have not yet determined if they will invest in Klein Hall upgrades or buy a new facility. The grant requires that the project be completed within two years.
If the agency decides to buy a new building, it would remain in the Chippewa Falls area, he added.
The grant announcement also included money for transitional veterans housing centers in Union Grove and Green Bay to upgrade to private rooms with private baths.
“It is so important that we enable the well-being of our state’s vulnerable veterans,” state Veterans Affairs Secretary Mary Kolar said in a news release. “We are excited to make these improvements to our facilities so that the veterans who are receiving the tools and support they need to be independent and put homelessness behind them will have safer living quarters while we are still in the midst of this terrible pandemic.”
Gov. Tony Evers also praised the funding for the Veterans Housing and Recovery Program facility upgrades that is provided through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.
“Our veterans have given so much in service to our country and the last thing they should have to worry about is where they are going to lay their heads at night,” Evers said in a statement. “I am glad to see these funds going out the door to help the VHRP continue it’s critical work to support Wisconsin veterans.”
The primary goal of the program, funded by the VA, is to end veteran homelessness, Placidi said.
The program seeks to provide homeless veterans with the job training, education, counseling and rehabilitative services they need to help them find steady employment, affordable housing and the skills to sustain a productive lifestyle. Veterans are allowed to stay in the program for up to two years.
Montgomery, who revealed that his struggle with addiction led him to Klein Hall, said he is thankful the program provides the supports necessary to help veterans climb out of homelessness.
“When you’re coming from the streets or from living in a garage or on an empty train or under a bridge, you should be appreciative when you have three hots and a cot and you’re not in prison and you’re getting free laundry service,” he said. “If you come here with the right attitude and to try to cure your homelessness so it won’t happen again, they give you opportunities to try to lead you in the right direction. If you put the work in, you’ll get something out.”
In 2018, Klein Hall officials said 360 veterans had stayed in the facility during its first 11 years of operation. An updated figure was not immediately available.
The building was named for Bill Klein, who started the program for homeless veterans.