More than five years ago, the Soldiers Home Historic District was recognized as one of the most endangered historic places in the nation. That designation introduced many people to the Soldiers Home for the first time. As the community learned about this Civil War era, village-like setting tucked behind Miller Park and the fact that it was uniquely designed as a place of healing for veterans, they had one question: How can I help?
For a long time, the answer to that question was difficult. Though some of the district’s most notable buildings were vacant and deteriorating because of a lack of federal funding, there was no mechanism for accepting funds for the VA-owned property.
Recently, that changed.
Last year, The Alexander Co. and the city Housing Authority signed an agreement with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to restore and rehabilitate six Soldiers Home buildings, including the iconic Old Main. Under the proposal, the buildings will be renovated to include 101 supportive housing units for veterans and their families who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.
Returning these incredible buildings to the service of veterans is no small task, but I can’t think of a better way to care for veterans who are most in need. The Soldiers Home was designed for them, and in the near future, it will once again serve them.
Thanks to the tremendous progress made over the last five years, I now have an answer when people ask me “how can I help?” My answer? You can give.
In 1865, a group of remarkable women raised $110,000, which, in conjunction with legislation signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln, spurred the Soldiers Home development. We have this remarkable asset today because of their generosity and willingness to come together as a community to care for our nation’s heroes. More than 150 years later, we have the opportunity to continue their legacy and invest in and serve today and tomorrow’s heroes.
Every hero deserves a home, and this project will serve thousands of them for decades to come.
The rehabilitation project will cost $40 million, and we are in the homestretch. The vast majority, $36 million, has already been secured through private investments. Just $4.25 million will allow veterans to once again come home to the Soldiers Home.
Will you help?
This opinion piece appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Jim Duff is an Army veteran and director of the Milwaukee County Veterans’ Service Office.