Both the building and its occupants are getting a second chance.

What was the vacant Oak Grove building on the campus of the Northern Wisconsin Center for the Developmentally Disabled at 2820 E. Park Ave. in Chippewa Falls is becoming Klein Hall.

Starting soon, it will house up to 40 veterans looking to change their lives under the state’s Veterans Homeless Program.

“The main purpose of our program are veterans who are at risk of being homeless or (who) are homeless,” said Phillip Sarazen, the site manager.

Sarazen is a Chippewa Falls native and 1986 graduate of Chippewa Falls Senior High School. He served 21 years in the U.S. Navy until retiring July 1.

The hall is named after the late William Klein of Tomah, who in 1994 was instrumental in getting the veterans program off the ground.

The hall will be formally dedicated Dec. 4. Local politicians and former state Sen. Dave Zien, one of the program’s strongest backers, are being invited to attend.

Similar programs are already offered at Fort McCoy, King and Union Grove.

Sarazen said the program is still awaiting federal certification before it can start taking veterans.

“It should be any day now,” he said.

‘Not a revolving door’

Willie McNeal can’t wait for the program to begin. The U.S. Army veteran is the senior security guard for the Chippewa Falls program, and a graduate of the program at King.

He moved to Chippewa Falls in March, helping to get Klein Hall ready.

It’s coming together well, McNeal said.

“Everyone is joining in and helping each other,” he said.

Honorably discharged veterans from all service branches eligible for the program will be referred by their county’s Veterans Service Officer. To qualify, they will have to pass through a screening process.

For example, no veteran convicted of a violent crime and no one walking off the street will be accepted, Sarazen said.

“We’re not a revolving door,” he said. “We’re more of a transitional home for them.”

The veterans who will be accepted are either homeless, or diagnosed as having abused drugs or alcohol or having a mental illness.

They will be in a structured environment where they will learn to work and live together, Sarazen said. No drugs or alcohol will be allowed, he added.

Female veterans will be accepted for the program and will have separate living and bathroom facilities than the men.

Comfortable, not luxurious

The veterans in the program will be living in comfortable surroundings, but far from luxurious ones. Most of the furniture they will be using is donated, as are many of the clothes they will be given and the food they will be eating.

Sarazen said the government gives the program $1.90 a day per veteran to feed them up to three meals a day. That’s the same rate paid to the program at the three other locations.

Breakfast will be a cold meal while lunch and dinner will have hot food, prepared by food manager Ron Melland, an Air Force veteran.

“We’ve got to live off of donations,” Sarazen said.

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Fortunately, that hasn’t been a problem so far. For example, the program recently received a shipment of beef and pork from a local farmer.

Others have donated items the veterans will be using in daily life, such as soap, shampoo and toothpaste. Still others have donated used exercise equipment so that the veterans will be able to work out and keep in shape.

A five-step process

Once in Chippewa Falls, Sarazen said the veterans will go through a five-phase Veterans Assistance Program aimed at eventually letting them lead normal lives.

After the intake process, program workers will find out the needs of the veterans.

“We’re currently connected with the Veterans Administration out of Minneapolis, and they will be doing all of our cases,” Sarazen said.

Veterans with health issues will be able to use a computer video link with the VA in Minneapolis.

While in the program in Chippewa Falls, the veterans will get job training through the Job Centers in Chippewa Falls and Eau Claire, financial management advice and help in finding long-term affordable housing.

Sarazen said up to 30 veterans will be in the Veterans Assistance Program. Another 10 graduates of the VAP will be eligible for what’s called the Single Room Occupancy program, where they will each pay between $300 to $350 a month to live in one-room apartments.

The rent includes meals, showers and laundry, and the program will help them with some transportation needs. The veterans will also be able to use common areas to watch TV or talk with other veterans.

The program offers the veterans a way to work in the community and have a place to live while becoming self-sufficient.

“It gives them a chance to save up money in their savings accounts,” Sarazen said.

The veterans who want to be in the program have to sign a contract. They can chose to leave the program, but must wait at least 90 days if they decide to return.

Donations for the program are gladly accepted. Sarazen said anyone wanting to donate food, clothing or other items can call him at 726-2541.

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