By Karen Stokes
US Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD) Secretary, Julian Castro, visited Milwaukee last Friday to observe how renovating homes can be a way to eliminate homelessness. While in the city, he toured an abandoned home on north 36th Street in the Sherman Park neighborhood being deconstructed through the Milwaukee Adult Build Initiative.
According to HUD, Adult Build is a program designed to address three critical fronts: foreclosed properties adding to the blight in neighborhoods, extremely high levels of unemployment and too few employment opportunities that offer transferable skills and paid training. Adult Build coordinates with existing initiatives and brings together public, private and philanthropic stakeholders to collaborate in addressing these problems.
“This is exactly what we want to see,” said Castro. “This is the first time I’ve seen this type of program done with adults.”
Tony Kearney, the project director at Northcott Neighborhood House, explained that Northcott was working with the city of Milwaukee on this project.
“HUD is funding the Department of Neighborhood Services to deconstruct this house rather than bulldozing it. This can eliminate the amount of waste that goes into the landfills,” Kearney said. “There are actually 42 houses in this neighborhood that we were contracted on.”
“This is a fantastic model for other communities to follow,” Castro said.
County Executive Chris Abele went to Washington D.C. and shared how Milwaukee county is ending chronic homelessness with permanent housing faster than any other metropolitan neighborhood in America.
“We said we would get to 0 percent homelessness in three years and we’re going to get there in two,” Abele said. “It was important to see what other cities were doing, to share ideas.
This country sometimes has the habit of accepting the inevitability of something and complain as if there’s nothing we can do about it. All it takes is, ‘I’m going to put a stake in the ground’ and we’re just going to do what it takes.”
“Northcott is more focused to take meaningful steps to actively empower people in the neighborhood,” said Chris Abele.
Darryl Ellis 42, a Milwaukee native, came to the program at Northcott through a referral from UMOS. In a year, he obtained his carpenter’s license, lead, asbestos supervisors hand workers license, HAZMAT and more.
“I can use everything I’ve learned to be a journeyman, that’s my goal,” Ellis said. “I want to learn how to do it all.”
Construction is overwhelmingly a male populated career, but Nikesha Bynum is one of a few females in the field. She has been working in the construction business for two years and is now a supervisor.
“I am proud to say we have a new woman trainee on board. She’s been shadowing me and we have another lady we are trying to get groomed,” Bynum said. “It’s fun everyday working with 30 guys and being a crew leader. Any job can be challenging but I’m grateful for the program, I’m grateful for a second chance.”
Bynum 31, a single parent with three children went to Northcott for the food pantry because at that time she was homeless.
“Right now, my future is to help build Northcott to become a bigger and better program to help more people in the community to help them get good jobs and to let them know that you don’t have to rob or steal. They can help build up our community,” said Bynum. “My children are proud of what I do. They like to ride by a place I’ve worked on. I tell them that mom helped work on that.”
“Northcott gets you trained and certified. You can make good money, even start you’re own company, the skies the limit,” Bynum said.
To get involved, you can apply at Northcott, 2460 N. 6th Street or call 414-372-3770.