Acting Mayor Cavalier Johnson met with members of the Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee (HACM) on February 8 at the Old Soldiers Home, on the grounds of the Clement J. Zablocki Veterans Affairs Medical Center, to review the ongoing efforts with expanding access of affordable housing for veterans who are experiencing homelessness or at risk of it.

Representatives from the various partnerships that helped revitalize Old Main met in the historic building’s clubroom to discuss the status of the project and ongoing community efforts.

Those gathered included Mayor Cavalier Johnson; Willie Hines, Acting Secretary-Executive Director, Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee (HACM); Dr. Christina Orr, Assistant Medical Center Director, Clement J. Zablocki Veterans Affairs Medical Center; Mike Mullen, Program Specialist, Clement J. Zablocki Veterans Affairs Medical Center; Amy Maul, Program Manager, Clement J. Zablocki Veterans Affairs Medical Center; and Eduardo Garza, President and CEO, Center for Veterans Issues.

Before Jonathan Beck, Development Project Manager at The Alexander Company, provided a tour of Soldiers Home for the group, he announced that the facility had a 100% occupancy.

Opened to veterans in March 2021, the six restored buildings offer 101 permanent supportive housing units for veterans and their families who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. Veteran residents receive access to a range of supportive services, including case management, educational training and employment assistance, benefits assistance, recreational activities, independent living skills training, sobriety maintenance, and nutritional support.

“I couldn’t help but think about the members of my own family who were in the military, and those who they served with to protect our country,” said Mayor Johnson. “And to know that if those folks, if they are in need of medical care, or in need of housing, or if they fall on hard times, that our Housing Authority in Milwaukee is a leader at working to make sure they don’t experience homelessness.”

Mayor Johnson said that his access to Old Main had previously been limited, but he spoke about his former Aldermanic District. His experience with Victory Manor in the Westlawn Gardens neighborhood on Milwaukee’s northwest side had given him insight into local Veterans issues regarding the need for housing.

“I think it is important to also remember the partnerships that came together to help our Veterans here, and not only preserve a historic institution like Old Main but reclaim it from ruin to serve its original purpose as a home for our Veterans,” added Mayor Johnson.

Established just after the Civil War, the Milwaukee VA Soldiers Home is a 90-plus acre district that rests on the grounds of the Clement J. Zablocki Medical Center. The Soldiers Home’s recuperative village and landscape were designed to be a place of refuge for Civil War soldiers to aid their healing and help ease their transition back to civilian life. One of only 43 National Historic Landmarks in Wisconsin, it contains some of the oldest and most historic buildings in the VA system.

The success of Old Main came as a result of many years of hard work, and near disaster with building’s condition deteriorating to the point that if action had not taken it would have faced demolition. The six historic buildings rehabilitated by The Alexander Company included Old Main (Building 2) – the most prominent and recognizable building on the campus, the Administration Building (Building 1), the Catholic Chaplain’s Quarters (Building 14), and three duplexes (Buildings 18, 19 and 62).

“We are especially proud of this building and our partnerships, because this has been a long time coming. And so with our opening last year in March, it was really rewarding to see our Veterans enter into their homes,” said Dr. Orr. “It couldn’t have been open at a better time, no one anticipated COVID. Those who are homeless are at a higher risk of increasing medical issues, especially during the pandemic. And so with this opening, it allowed them to have safety and not only shelter – but time to really make a home within those first six months.”

Dr. Orr said that plans for the redevelopment of the Solders Home complex began as far back as 2010. It was a long process with quite a few obstacles. But she felt that thanks to the heart, and the energy, and the effort that the team put in, it was able to produce a very successful result.

One of the additional advantages for Veterans who reside on campus was their close proximity to the medical center. The environment also fostered a healthy community, which was the foundational purpose of its Civil War-era design.