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Denise Lockwood

With a dozen homeless veterans now living in the Veteran Village at 1624 Yout Street, the program has suffered a setback after the Wisconsin Board of Veterans Affairs denied a $25,000 grant request.

The Veterans Outreach of Wisconsin opened the James A. Peterson Veteran Village and SC Johnson Community Center in November to house, feed and support homeless veterans.

For the past two years, the program received $5,000 and $3,000 in grant funding for its food pantry, which has been in operation for three years. The Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs funds the grant program, but the Wisconsin Board of Veterans Affairs decides who receives the grants.

“It was very discouraging to learn that the WDVA isn’t supporting us,” said Jeff Gustin, the executive director for the Veterans Outreach of Wisconsin.

The tiny home village consists of five, three-home pods connected by professionally landscaped grounds and a sidewalk that leads residents to a community building space where they can shower, enjoy a hot meal and get connected to services like employment counseling, mental health assistance, and addiction programs.

Director questions grant decision

Gustin received a letter dated Jan. 31 from the WDVA stating that the grant request was denied, but there was no explanation as to why it wasn’t funded.

“By the end of February, we are expected to be filled up with 15 veterans. Everything is falling into place like we hoped it would, so we applied for the grant from the WDVA,” Gustin said.

But this year, the nonprofit asked for $25,000 because — per USDA guidelines — it will cost $32,000 to feed all 15 veterans for the year.

“We’re trying to do their job, not ours,” Gustin said. “They failed us and that’s why we’re doing it… at least they could pitch in a little to help us do their job. I want the world to know that the WDVA is not doing what they need to do even though we now have a backyard full of vets that were homeless.”

Committee, not WDVA awarded grants

Officials with the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs said they received 53 grant applications totaling $1.1 million, but only had a budget of $250,000. An evaluation committee, comprised of three members of the Wisconsin Board of Veterans Affairs, reviewed and scored the grant applications.

The Committee rated the applications on a 100 point scale based on a variety of factors including, experience working with veterans and their families, need, outreach and screening plan, monitoring and program evaluation, and program goals and objectives.

“Unfortunately, this high level of competition means that many important and valuable programs did not receive a grant. Given the budget parameters, this year, the 11 nonprofits with the highest scores were awarded a grant,” said Carla Vigue, spokesperson for the WDVA.

But Gustin questions this process and points to why the committee chose to give $25,000 for a museum and 155-acre memorial park in Neillsville, and $15,000 for a veterans ceremony and monument at the Union Grove Cemetery in Rhinelander.

What’s next for feeding the veterans

Now that Veterans Outreach of Wisconsin isn’t receiving any of the grant money it requested from the WDVA, it will still feed the veterans from the food pantry it operates and from donations that come in. They will also need to put together extra fundraisers.

“It takes a lot for us to raise $25,000 and officials with the WDVA literally showed up to our ribbon cutting ceremony,” Gustin said. “So it’s hard to fathom that they would turn us down when we are literally feeding homeless veterans.”

If you would like to make a donation of money or food, click on the Veterans Outreach of Wisconsin website.

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.