Hidden Homelessness: Project in Western WI designed to help more - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Hidden Homelessness: Project in Western WI designed to help more people in need

New Richmond (WQOW) - A renovation project in Western Wisconsin caught our eye, not because it's big and bold or sleek and sophisticated.  It's because the project is designed to help what's being called a hidden population. 

Angela Moulton, a Development Director for the St. Croix County Salvation Army, says, "Homelessness really does exist in rural communities."

It may have been built in the 1950's but an old building in New Richmond will bring new life to Grace Place Shelter.  Duana Bremer, with the shelter, says, "We do have a facility right now in Somerset that houses 24 people. Last year, because of the demand we were forced to turn away 130 family units."

The new building will have room for 64 people. And while it won't be enough space for everyone, volunteers from the American Legion know it will help. "We had some veterans that were homeless this winter in this area and two of them we had to put in the county jail, open cells of course. These guys have been through it, they deserve better," explains Chuck Mehls, an American Legion Honor Guard Commander.  

Unlike the hustle of a metropolitan area, homelessness in a rural community is much quieter. Moulton says, "I am always surprised actually when people say, 'What? We have homelessness here?' We do, we have homelessness here."

Bremer says, "When you're in Minneapolis or Chicago or Milwaukee, you're seeing people holding a sign that says, 'I'm homeless, I'll work for food.' You don't see that in rural areas. Because they're hidden, they're either doubled or tripled up in different households, they're sleeping in cars or in campgrounds."

Mental health, high propane prices over the winter and financial instability are just a few factors.  "I think the salary levels aren't high enough in the community to support people to self-sufficiency," explains Bremer. “There is no way possible that making minimum wage, supporting one or two children, you can make it."

But it's the support offered through programs like grace place that can get people on the right track. Bremer says, "We have a success rate of 89 percent of the folks that complete our program, continue to reside in permanent housing after two years."

Grace Place serves Burnett, Polk, St.Croix and Pierce Counties. It is funded through the Salvation Army, but the building was donated to the shelter.

Renovations are expected to be done this fall. They are looking for volunteers to help. To learn more about how you can help, click here.  

You can also call the shelter at 715-247-2944 or visit the St. Croix County Salvation Army Facebook Page

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