RACINE — From the Latin word, “adventus,” which means coming or arrival, Advent marks the start of the church’s liturgical year. The faithful are encouraged to hold a prayer vigil before the Blessed Sacrament, attend retreats and reflections, and do penance and almsgiving.
Each year, St. Paul the Apostle Parish, Racine, displays their Advent Giving Tree to collect funds for worthwhile organizations. This year, the human concerns committee selected the St. Vincent de Paul Society and the Veteran’s Outreach of Wisconsin Tiny House Project as recipients.
The Tiny House Project strives to get veterans on their feet. The Veteran’s Outreach of Wisconsin provides formerly homeless veterans with home furnishings, food and clothing. Funds from this Giving Tree will support construction of 15 tiny homes in the James A. Peterson Veterans Village.
As chair of the human concerns committee, Diane Younk learned of the Tiny House Project through publicity in the local newspaper and its success in other communities. She and another member of the committee visited the Veteran’s Outreach Center to learn more about the program.
“It is like a big warehouse without any amenities or offices,” she explained. “They give out food and serve around 300 families a week. They will also hand out seasonal clothing and help with clothing if someone has a job interview. If they need a winter coat, the center helps with that too.”
After months of preparation, Veteran’s Outreach received official approval by the city of Racine in November to construct the Tiny House Village. The 15 small homes, at 1624 Yout St., will serve as temporary housing for needy veterans.
“When it is finished, it will really be quite wonderful,” said Younk. “There will be a community center with laundry, kitchen, male and female locked showers, recreation area, food pantry, meeting areas and a place for financial workshops, job interview preparation and PTSD support. The veterans will also receive outreach and help with interview skills to get back on their feet. The veterans will spend about two years there to transition so they don’t return to homelessness.”[su_pullquote align=”right”]If you want to help
Send donations to St. Paul the Apostle Advent Giving Tree Tiny House Project 6400 Spring St., Mt. Pleasant, WI 53406 or through the Veteran’s Outreach of WI website: vetsoutreachwi.us/ [/su_pullquote]
Each of the 128-square-foot homes will feature a bunk, microwave, refrigerator, composting lavatory and full access to the community building. Each veteran agrees to follow a set of rules, such as no drinking or drugs while living there. Each will be subject to drug and alcohol tests. There will also be video surveillance of the area.
According to Jeff Gustin, co-founder and director of Veteran’s Outreach, by providing the homes, they are hoping the veterans will never see homelessness again.
“This is an affordable way to help homeless veterans get back on their feet,” he said. “It is a hand up and will hopefully help them. It is important to me to give back to the men and women who protect my freedoms.”
Construction has begun offsite on the tiny homes that are built entirely by volunteers and local trade unions. Using donated materials, construction for each is around $5,000.
“The need exceeds the 15 homes that we are building, but our organization is big enough to only manage 15,” said Gustin. “The response has been nothing but positive from the community; the structure of our program was designed by listening to our veterans and what their needs are.”
Gustin anticipates completion of the project and to be running at capacity by April 2017, but because they have no completion day set, they are not taking any applications for homes until the entire project is completed.
“We do not want any veterans trying to hold out on the streets until we are done with construction,” he said. “While we estimated two years for each veteran to live in the homes, there is no time limit. At intake, we will set a time period on a goal sheet tailored to that individual’s needs and work with them to meet those goals. The time that it will take will be different for every situation.”
While the homes are small, Gustin explained that each of the tiny homes basically serves as a bedroom and the community center serves as the rest of the house.
“Both pieces have to be in play to make it work,” he said. “Out of the large kitchen, we will run three meals per day and the residents will be able to use their own kitchen as well. The rec area will double as a place for peer-led support groups for PTSD and AODA meetings.”
Younk is hoping the Veteran’s Outreach of Wisconsin receives ample parishioner support. To help with decision making, she has an information board posted near the Giving Tree.
“This way, when people take an envelope off the tree, which is decorated in red, white and blue flags, they can read more about the program. We also have brochures to hand out to help them make decisions as to what they want to do this advent,” she explained. “We have not supported the veterans this way before and we are hoping that our parishioners will be as generous as they always have been in the past.”