MILWAUKEE — The year 2016 closed on a high note for the MacCanon Brown Homeless Sanctuary, as the non-profit was finally able to purchase a building to house its ongoing efforts to serve the homeless community of Milwaukee’s Amani neighborhood.
The five-story facility at 2461 W. Center St., will be “a fountainhead of life-building work on a maximum scale,” Brown wrote in a email to supporters.
The MBHS is Brown’s second initiative serving Milwaukee’s homeless population. She is the former executive director of Repairers of the Breach on 13th and Vliet streets. MBHS was founded in 2014 and since that time has been operating out of Hephatha Lutheran Church on Locust Street.
Brown related the “miraculous” story of how the purchase of the ministry’s new home came about in a phone interview with the Milwaukee Catholic Herald.
The MBHS embarked on a major fundraising effort in September after signing the offer to purchase agreement with Jason Dahl, former owner of the building on Center Street. That development was the result of two years of negotiations, said Brown. Per that agreement, the final date to place an offer on the building was Dec. 23.
By Dec. 19, said Brown, the $175,000 fundraising goal had not been met.
“We were a ways away from it,” she said. “I was kind of discouraged.”
The following day, she met for coffee with longtime supporters and friends Steve and Maryann Radowski, members of Christ King Parish – and they had some big news for her.[su_pullquote align=”right”]Tax-deductible donations to the building fund can be mailed to MBHS, P.O. Box 80165, Milwaukee, WI 53208. Make payable to MBHS and write “building fund” in memo. Donations can also be made via PayPal; for more information, visit www.mbsanctuary.org/.[/su_pullquote]
“They spoke on how they had decided to make sure that we could purchase the building,” she said. “They said they were going to make sure that we came up with the funding.”
Together with 50 other generous donors to the building fund, the Radowskis helped MBHS meet its fundraising goal.
When they shared the good news with Brown, all three broke down and wept, said Radowski. “Here we are in Colectivo (coffee shope) at one of those long tables – she’s at one side and we’re on another side, there are people all around, and we’re weeping.”
Brown was first introduced to the Radowskis during her time as the executive director of Repairers of the Breach.
“I was quite taken with her – her presence is just something special, I think,” Maryann Radowski said. She became Brown’s “prayer partner” during the difficult period following 2013, when Brown split from Repairers of the Breach. The Radowskis are retired and spend a lot of time traveling, but kept tabs on the development of Brown’s new charity whenever they were in town.
“When the building became available, she took us on a tour right away. We saw that it was just so perfect for what she wants to do,” said Radowski.
The couple soon hosted a party at their home to support the building’s fundraising campaign. “At the party, MacCanon began describing, floor by floor, the dreams she had for this building. She’s very practical and she’s not biting off more than she can chew, but the vision she has is so incredible,” said Radowski. It was that evening that the couple decided they would make every effort to ensure the building came into the hands of the MBHS.
“Our hearts really became ready to go a step further.”
MBHS will renovate the building one floor at a time. Each floor will address a different aspect of the needs faced by Milwaukee’s homeless – what Brown has always called “the toolkit.”
The first floor will encompass the ministry’s meal program and house a nonviolent gathering space, “where people can experience community and safety,” she said. There will also be space for showers.
Other floors will focus on healthcare access, employment opportunities and even aquaponics, a joint venture with MSOE faculty and students where waste produced by farmed fish or other aquatic animals supplies nutrients for plants grown hydroponically, which in turn purify the water.
The top floor will feature a community forum that will provide a setting for dialogue between the homeless and those who have come to volunteer. That opportunity for fellowship and faith-sharing is a key feature of Brown’s approach to homeless service.
“There’s such a need for that right now, to break down barriers,” she said.
That approach initially drew the Radowskis to homeless advocacy, back when they first met Brown at Repairers of the Breach.
“For me, it was very profound to be in a situation where we got into a group with some homeless people and people who had been formerly homeless and just talk about things,” said Radowski. “I had not had a lot of exposure to homelessness at that point, and to just meet some people and get right down to realizing the humanness of them – they have the same dreams, the same hopes. They’re just like me.”
Architect Craig Coursin has estimated the first floor constructions costs will total around $400,000 before counting donated or volunteer work. Fundraising for that endeavor has already begun, and construction will commence once $100,000 has been raised, said Brown. She added that the group is confident they will be able to occupy the first floor by August or September.
But even before that, the needs of the area will have a chance to be served by the MBHS via their Doorway Ministry, which will launch in February or March. Bag lunches and clothing will be distributed from the Center Street doorway while interior construction progresses.
Brown called this next phase of MBHS’ ministry “larger than me and larger than ourselves.
“In bringing this building into its potential, we can address in a major way in the context of huge need the population of homeless and at-risk homeless in the greater Milwaukee area, especially in the 53206 zip code,” she said. “We can be a major fortification of the safety net in this city and can fill a crucial gap. We’ll have the capacity to do 24-hour (service) not just for a few people but for a larger number of people because of the size (of the building).”
She and her colleagues are calling the building “our Christmas miracle.”
“It really is proof of that whole verse about ‘ask and it shall be given to you; seek and you shall find.’”