CHIPPEWA FALLS — Michael Hanke is grateful that the Chippewa Falls community has Klein Hall, a homeless shelter for veterans located on the Northern Center grounds. However, Klein Hall is designed as a program for single men.
Hanke, Klein Hall’s program supervisor, saw a need for housing for homeless female veterans, and for families with children.
Hanke, a former Chippewa Falls councilman, is a veteran and a member of AMVETS, and his organization began working on plans nine months ago to build a portable homeless shelter that will be one of the “tiny homes” operated by several churches in the region. He obtained a trailer and started working on plans to overhaul it into a shelter.
“It’s our way of supporting the community as a whole,” he said. “This home will be open to those veterans who can’t utilize the services offered at Klein Hall.”
What makes the new tiny home so unique is its size — at 8-by-24 feet, it is large enough to house a family.
Hanke lined up assistance from the AMVET chapters in Eau Claire County, Colfax and Western Wisconsin to assist in funding the project. He got Proweld Fabrication of Cadott to work on the exterior. Loopy’s Tavern, The Snout Saloon and DAC Construction also participated in paying for the work or volunteering their time.
“We figured it would be $12,000 to $14,000 to build it, but it came in at about $8,500,” Hanke said. “That’s because of all the donations. I thought this was going to take longer than it did.”
The new shelter is named the AMVETS Olson-Kaufman Tiny Home, in honor of area veterans Todd Olson and Charles Kaufman, who died during the Iraq War. Olson, 36, of Loyal, died in 2004, while Kaufman, 20, of Fairchild, died in 2005.
Pastor Mike Cohoon of Landmark Christian Church in Lake Hallie, who has spearheaded the tiny home initiative, was stunned at the quality of the new home.
“This is going to be a really nice house,” Cohoon said. “We’re excited about it. We’ve housed a lot of larger families. It will give a lot more room.”
The shelter is now finished and set up at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church on the West Hill of Chippewa Falls. It needs new furnishings and appliances, which are expected to arrive in coming weeks. Because the trailer is off the ground, Cohoon said they plan to build a porch with steps to the door.
“We’re hoping to have it fully functional shortly after Christmas,” Cohoon said.
It will stay at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church until “Hope Village” is ready. Then it will move to that location.
The new trailer is the 10th “tiny home.” There previously were 10 homes in use, but Cohoon said they opted to sell a camper that wasn’t an ideal home.
Like the other tiny homes, it doesn’t have sewer or water.
Hanke said donating the home is just the first step in the process for his group. They want to provide food and other assistance to people who need to stay there in the future.
Capital campaign coming
Hope Village — a collection of portable homeless shelters — received an $872,997 state grant this summer, which will allow the group to remodel a community building and finalize plans to move all tiny homes into one central location. In February, the Chippewa Falls City Council approved a rezoning measure that allowed the Hope Village plan to move forward. Cohoon’s group has purchased a former dental clinic at 1825 Kennedy Road on the East Hill of Chippewa Falls.
The plan includes allowing up to 10 tiny homes to be placed behind the building, with the dental offices gutted and renovated, and adding showers and bathrooms; that building also will have a kitchen area, offices and a community room. The long-term plan includes constructing apartment units on the site as well.
The money includes $120,000 that is earmarked for motel vouchers for the homeless. Another $100,000 is for administration costs, with that money going to the Chippewa County Housing Authority, which will help manage the allocation of the grant. The remainder of the money can go toward the remodeling costs, as well as for purchasing items such as washers, dryers and kitchen appliances.
Other uses for the money include placing footings for the tiny homes, adding walkways, improving the parking lot and installing a fence.
Hope Village officials purchased the three-acre site behind the clinic for the tiny homes, as well as the dental clinic. Cohoon anticipates his group will launch a capital campaign later this year to pay off the remainder of the loan on the community center. They have hired Delafield-based Crescendo Consulting, which helped the city’s Park Board with its capital campaign to build the new small animal facility in Irvine Park.
In the nearly four years that tiny homes have been permitted in the city, the structures have been scattered outside churches, with just two at each location. However, the goal has always been to bring them into one central location, allowing more oversight, as well as providing bathrooms and showers.
The 3-acre site was rezoned from C-4 highway commercial use to R-3-8 multi-family, city records state, allowing for the tiny homes to be moved there in 2022 to create Hope Village. The tiny homes will be adjacent to the East Hill’s water tower and train tracks that separate the industrial park from residential neighborhoods. There are few homes or businesses nearby.
A tiny home is mobile, built on a trailer, featuring a chemical toilet, heater, chair, table and bed. Each house costs between $5,000 and $7,000 to complete, between construction and furnishings. Most of the units already completed and in use are 8-by-12 feet or 8-by-15 feet in size. The capacity at Hope Village is 10 homes, but Cohoon said it is possible additional units could wind up back at churches in the future.
According to the permit the City Council approved in 2017, the portable toilet must be emptied daily in the church’s bathroom. It also states there is a zero-tolerance policy on illegal activities, and alcohol, illegal drugs and guns or other weapons are banned from the homes.
Other rules stated in the special use permit include that no outside guests are allowed, cars must be parked in parking lots and not on lawns, and that no open flames — including candles or cigarettes — are allowed inside, and residents will lock the door whenever they leave the premises.
Chippewa Falls hasn’t had a homeless shelter since the Harmony House closed in February 2014. The Chippewa Falls Mission Coalition, a group of 17 area churches, has been working on ways to fill the void since Harmony House closed.