Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley, Milwaukee County officials, representatives from the State of Wisconsin’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), and local partners hosted a media tour of the Hillview Hall Rehabilitation Project on June 13.

Hillview is the first property ever purchased by Milwaukee County to provide emergency housing for individuals experiencing homelessness. Services will be available at the facility to help people get back on their feet and into permanent housing. The new facility will expand County efforts to provide housing and essential services to the homeless population in Milwaukee, after its renovations are completed around the middle of 2025.

The project received funding from the State of Wisconsin’s Neighborhood Investment Fund Program, which was created from resources directed by Governor Tony Evers. The original $234 million grant covered a variety of projects across the state, designed to help communities recover from the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Milwaukee County’s new space is located in a southside neighborhood setting, at 1615 S. 22nd Street. It will eventually have 27 private rooms for individuals transitioning to permanent housing, and provide 24/7 services including meals and laundry.

“We have already been running a homeless program on the second floor of this building for emergency housing for 27 individuals,” said James Mathy, Administrator for Housing Services in Milwaukee County. “It is rare that a municipal government does their own homeless street outreach, but we do that in Milwaukee County.”

Mathy said the County’s homeless outreach goal has been to take individuals directly off the street and put them into their own apartments, which follows the County Executive’s investment in the Housing First model. But the Hillview Hall Rehabilitation Project was designed for individuals who needed more intensive services, as a bridge to their own apartment.

“Our goal is to move clients into permanent housing as quickly as possible, with voluntary case management,” said Mathy.

The Hillview facility, originally built as a nursing home, is seen as an integral part of the Pathways to Permanent Housing program, by having the ability to offer a higher level of support for individuals transitioning from homelessness to stable housing. And the overall success relies on strong partnerships with long-term collaborations.

“We’ve been working with the County now for the largest part of our 42-year history, helping folks get off the streets and into more stable housing,” said Stephen Bauer, CEO of the Guest House. “We’ve been operating in the Pathways Program with the County since 2017. And we’ve actually been able to help about 470 folks who have needed a higher level of support in getting from a state of homelessness to more housing. It’s been amazing working with the County, and we’re excited to see the building expand to offer more space to those who need it.”

The aim of Milwaukee County’s Health and Human Services initiatives underpins a broader vision, to meet people where they are and ensure they have access to services with dignity. The Hillview project has gained significant support from both state and federal levels, which have praised Milwaukee County’s innovative approach.

“Milwaukee County Housing has always demonstrated a visionary approach toward tackling homelessness,” said Mike Basford, Director of the State of Wisconsin’s Interagency Council on Homelessness. “This project is one of 50 awarded through the program, with about $34 million spent to help communities recover from the pandemic, including affordable housing projects and adding shelter beds.”

The media tour of the Hillview facility highlighted the services available and the spaces that would be utilized for expansion. The first floor houses the Friedens Food Pantry, serving approximately 50,000 touches – or individual interactions – per year through home delivery services, nutrition training, and food demonstrations.

The nonprofit recently transitioned to a new name, Nourish Milwaukee (NourishMKE), to better describe its services and mission in the local community.

The third floor of the Hillview facility, previously an ESL program space, will now serve as a safe space for individuals on the streets during winter. The area is designated for the Pathways to Permanent Housing program, providing private rooms and comprehensive services to help individuals transition to permanent housing.

“It’s important to have stable housing for those struggling with addiction, mental health issues, and other challenges,” added Mathy. “By providing private space, we help individuals decompress and work on quality of life issues. This project is a model for healthy communities.”

In April 2022, Milwaukee County was recognized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) with the lowest unsheltered homeless population of any community per capita in the nation. The County had invested funds into Housing First programs, with the clear view that stable housing is needed to end homelessness.

“Housing security is a key determinant of health for County residents. When you can’t count on having a roof over your head at night it compounds stress and anxiety and contributes mightily to the poor health disparities we see throughout the region,” said County Executive Crowley. “I’m happy to say that by prioritizing an evidence-based approach and maximizing collaborative efforts in the public and private sectors, we have reached this significant milestone, but the work is not done. As a County, region, and whole community, we must use this momentum to accelerate our efforts to invest upstream and end chronic homelessness in Milwaukee County.”

> READ: Housing First: Milwaukee County recognized with lowest unsheltered homeless population in America

In the fall of 2023, a new challenge emerged for Milwaukee County as individuals began living in their cars and campers at local Park-and-Ride facilities. In May, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation started removing vehicles deemed “abandoned” and issued notices warning that vehicles used for camping would be towed. The Hillview facility is part of a general response to the slight rise of homelessness in the region.

“Despite having the lowest unsheltered count in the Country per capita, we saw a small increase recently,” said County Executive Crowley. “We had to pivot and address the issue differently. Providing private space for individuals who are reluctant to go into traditional shelters is essential.”

Coordinating rehabilitation efforts in an occupied building with critical services has had challenges, but the cooperation of partners was a crucial part of the County’s success. The Rehabilitation Project helps connects to the shared vision of being the healthiest county in Wisconsin.

The Hillview facility also represents a significant step in Milwaukee County’s ongoing efforts to combat homelessness and provide comprehensive support services, but stakeholders said they continue to seek more partners to comprehensively address the issue of homelessness.

“I’m just extremely grateful for the leadership of our Department of Health and Human Services and our housing division for what we’ve accomplished in housing and homelessness,” added County Executive Crowley. “But our work doesn’t stop here. We need more federal and statewide partners to tackle this issue affecting communities across Wisconsin. It’s our job to show that we can make critical investments to move our community forward and become greater partners with other communities.”

By providing stable housing and essential services, the Hillview facility aims to offer a beacon of hope for individuals transitioning from homelessness to a more stable, dignified life.

© Photo

Lee Matz