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Milwaukee County to transform property to offer emergency housing

County purchasing space to help people experiencing homelessness

James Mathy, Milwaukee County’s housing administrator, tours the third floor of the Hillview Hall Rehabilitation Project. Evan Casey/WPR

A new project in Milwaukee will provide emergency housing and shelter for people experiencing homelessness in an effort to get them into permanent housing.

Milwaukee County is using a $3 million grant from the state to renovate a space on Milwaukee’s south side to provide 27 rooms for people while they look for housing. It’s the first time the county has purchased a property to provide emergency housing for unsheltered homeless people, according to a statement from the county.

During a tour of the property Thursday, James Mathy, Milwaukee County’s housing administrator, said the goal is for the space to be used as a bridge for people on the street to find housing.

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“Our goal is to have their stay be very quick. If that’s their dream is to be in an apartment, we want to be able to accomplish that as quickly as possible,” Mathy said. 

James Mathy, Milwaukee County’s housing administrator, speaks outside of a property the county purchased to help transform into housing for homeless people. Evan Casey/WPR

Milwaukee County is renovating the third floor of the Hillview Hall Rehabilitation Project building. Mathy said that floor has been used as a warming room for people without housing during the winter. He said the space will be staffed 24 hours a day, and meals and laundry will be provided for people staying in the rooms.

“An individual needing to decompress coming off the streets with the dignity of a space like this for emergency housing is very different than a congregate shelter,” Mathy said. 

Homeless outreach workers will work to find housing for people. Peer support specialists will also be available, according to the county. People can also choose to work with a caseworker when they leave.

As part of the renovation, the building’s roof, flooring, courtyard and other areas will be improved and repaired. 

There’s already a food pantry on the first floor of the building, and Guest House of Milwaukee, a nonprofit that runs an emergency shelter on the second floor, is also in the building.

The project — which is expected to be completed by early 2025 — comes as homelessness is rising across the county. In Milwaukee County, the number of unhoused people has risen from 817 in 2021 to 832 in 2022, and to 1,056 in 2023, according to federal data.

The Hillview Hall Rehabilitation Project building is seen here on Thursday, June 13, 2024. Evan Casey/WPR

Michael Basford, the director of the Wisconsin Interagency Council on Homelessness, also toured the property Thursday. It’s one of 50 projects that was awarded funding from the state through the Neighborhood Investment Fund Program. 

“It is necessary to have efforts like this being stood up, because we’re right now experiencing nationwide a crisis of increased homelessness, particularly unsheltered homelessness,” Basford said. 

“Projects like this are going to go a very long way towards stabilizing communities and stabilizing the lives of the most vulnerable,” he added. 

Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley said he supports the initiative. He said the county provides safety net programs and services for the homeless, and projects like this could save taxpayers money in the long run.

“We want to be able to save money while also providing a stepping stone for individuals who may be on tough times,” Crowley said Thursday.

The third floor of the Hillview Hall Rehabilitation Project can be seen here on Thursday, June 13, 2024. Evan Casey/WPR

The project is similar to another project the county announced earlier this year, which combines crisis beds for people without homes with permanent affordable apartments under the same roof.

Mathy said people experiencing homelessness want to have access to permanent housing. 

“That is the goal of everything we do here is to make that dream possible on their own terms,” Mathy said.