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20141109_120621Firefighters told 51-year-old Jonn Nuter that he had 15 minutes to get what he could out of the upper flat he rented with a friend in Bay View that had caught fire in August.

Nuter grabbed his computer, the theater diploma he received from Marquette University in 1981, family photos and an armful of clothes. And after using up all of his savings to pay for a hotel room, he lost his catering job in Milwaukee. Now he’s homeless and living at HALO, Racine’s homeless shelter .

He came to Racine because he had lived here before, and he knew a few more friends that he could stay with temporarily while he looked for a job. But he felt like he was becoming a burden to his friends, and he started living on the street and sleeping in parking garages. He knew he needed to find a job quickly and landed one within two days as a banquet server at a local restaurant.

“I just took the job so that I can survive, that was my goal,” he said. “But I can’t screw up this job because it’s the only thing that is going to get me out of there… and it’s getting rough to work and do that (live at the homeless shelter).”

Nuter has a new-found appreciation for people who are homeless now that he has experienced it firsthand. Still, he feels isolated and overwhelmed.

“I was walking by these huge houses downtown and I wonder if people realize what they have… that they take that for granted: to have a place to go, to have a place to keep warm and a place to eat,” he said as tears streamed down his face. “And I know I’ll get out of it, I know I’ll get through it. But right now, it’s just so hard… I’ve never been in this situation.”

Work has become a God send to Nuter because it gets him out of the shelter and working toward fulfilling his goal of getting his own place. But he worries about how he’ll be able to manage setting himself up in an apartment knowing that he has very few possessions.

Still, he is grateful that he has a place to stay and he knows his situation is temporary. But what Nuter is also finding is that because he has a job, his situation doesn’t always mesh with the rules HALO has in place.

Sometimes the restaurant he works at will have extra food, but he can’t take it into the shelter to eat it at a later time because the shelter rules don’t allow guests to bring food in for sanitation reasons. One day he came back from starting work at 4 a.m. and was told that he couldn’t go back to his room to sleep until after 5 p.m. He fell asleep in the day room and missed dinner at 6 p.m. And because he only has one uniform, it’s difficult to keep it clean because the shelter only allows them to do laundry once a week.

“I just think there should be different rules depending on your situation,” he said.

But Stephanie Kober, family program director at Halo, said the shelter has 60 men using three washer and driers, which often break down because they aren’t industrial driers and they are run constantly.

“It’s tough,” she said. “On the women and children’s side, we’re down to one washer and two driers… so when they breakdown we have to wait for them to be repaired.”

Kober also said that the shelter often requires guests to do certain programming during the day if they aren’t working, but that Nuter should be able to work through some of these issues with his case manager.

“What’s hard sometimes though is that our case managers only work during normal business hours, so if someone has a job during the day it can take some time before they see one,” she said.

Still, Nuter said that once he gets back on his feet, he plans to become a volunteer.

“To not have any where to go like that is one of the hardest things… I just have nowhere to go,” he said. “It’s hard. And then to try to get out of that.. it’s really hard to dig yourself out, especially when you’ve lost everything you have.”

Nuter said he doesn’t have many clothes or anything to set up an apartment for himself.

“Oh God, there are days, where I’m fine and I can get up and go to work and come back to the shelter because I know it’s only going to last so long,” he said. “And other days it just seems so overwhelming.

“But I have a whole new outlook about what it’s like to be homeless.”

Kober said that men have a more difficult time getting the resources they need.

“The women have ‘Dress for Success,’ that’s a program that I have access to where I can get them clothes, but the guys don’t have that,” she said.

What does bode well for Nuter though is that he just get a second bachelor’s degree in interior design and received his certification as an interior designer. He’s hoping that he’ll be able to land a job as an interior designer and has a website: and a blog at, which showcases his work.

“I don’t like people having to take care of me,” he said. “I’d rather just have a job and a place to rest my head that is out of the cold.”





Denise Lockwood has an extensive background in traditional and non-traditional media. She has written for, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine and the Kenosha News.