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Homeless vets getting help back to their feet

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news River Falls, 54022
River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

It's not an emergency shelter for homeless veterans, but a place they can go to get a roof over their head, food and the skills they need to get their lives back.

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On Dec. 14, the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs opened a facility for homeless veterans called Klein Hall on the grounds of the Northern Wisconsin Center in Chippewa Falls.

"We are not an emergency shelter. They (homeless veterans) are here for a reason," said Phillip Sarazen, Klein Hall site manager.

Sarazen says that the veterans can stay there for up to two years.

While Klein Hall has 30 beds only 20 participants are currently at the facility. Sarazen says that's because the facility is so new.

During their stay the veterans will undergo a five-phase program and get help for any drug or alcohol problems.

As the veterans go through the phases they get training in anger management, finances, job seeking and job skills.

During the third phase, the veterans can get training and Sarazen says that several are getting computer training from Chippewa Valley Technical College, which the school is funding.

"We have one guy working on his GED and one guy working on getting his truck driving certification," Sarazen said.

The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development in Eau Claire also helps out with resume building classes and job search assistance.

In the fourth phase, veterans transition to working and living on their own if they wish.

The final phase is independent living where veterans move out of the facility. However, staff members continue to track them and to follow up with the veteran from time to time.

According to Kenneth Grant, director of the WDVA veterans assistance programs, Klein Hall was the fourth such facility opened in the state to help homeless vets.

Other facilities are at Union Grove, Waupaca and Fort McCoy.

Grant says the statewide program helps between 80 - 90 homeless veterans a month, most of whom are Vietnam veterans with an average age of 54.

However he did note that there are some Gulf War veterans and World War II vets.

"Our goal is to bring them into an environment where they can get back on their feet," Grant said.

He said the success rate is around 70 - 75 percent.

None of the facilities are funded by state taxpayer money, according to Grant. Some of the funds come from the state veterans trust fund, the federal government and some from donations.

Sarazen said that community support for the Chippewa Falls facility has been great.

"It's been overwhelming," Sarazen said. "I get donations every day."

Acceptable donations include food, personal care items, clothing, housekeeping supplies, winter supplies holiday decorations and snack items.

"Gift cards are very useful," Sarazen said.

He added that any company, community group or individual looking to help should contact him at 715.726.2541.

To donate to any of the other facilities contact the WDVA at 800.947.8387.

Sarazen said that to get a veteran into the program the best place to start is by contacting the county veterans services officer.

"Every county has one and it just goes much smoother," he said.

Contact Brady Bautch at internet@rivertowns.net

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