This Homeless Shelter Offers Far More Than Just a Bed to Sleep In

By offering resources to achieve sobriety, maintain positive mental health and learn job skills, Guest House of Milwaukee offers long-term solutions to chronic homelessness.

On any given night, there are approximately 1,400 homeless men, women and children in Milwaukee, according to the annual Point-in-Time survey conducted by the Milwaukee Continuum of Care. Of these 1,400, about 60 percent of them are male. Unfortunately, of the roughly 1,000 shelter beds available in Milwaukee each night, only about 336 of them are for men. 

Housing instability is not the only hurdle these men face. Thirty-nine percent of homeless men suffer from mental illness, 26 percent suffer from alcohol addiction and 22 percent suffer from substance abuse issues. Oftentimes, providing consistent meals and a bed to sleep in isn’t enough for those whose situations necessitate continuous support.

Guest House of Milwaukee, the city’s largest publicly-funded homeless shelter, has taken tremendous strides in providing men with housing opportunities and the resources to achieve sobriety, gain personal independence and learn how to manage their mental health.

At the end of 2016, Guest House launched a Recovery Housing program, which is a subsidiary service of Comprehensive Community Services (CCS). CCS aims to aid people suffering from mental health and/or substance abuse issues by offering resources to establish life skills. Recovery Housing is a more structured program that creates a supportive living situation for men enrolled in CCS. Guest House is the only homeless services organization in the city to become a CCS provider.

In addition, Guest House is the only shelter in Milwaukee with an onsite clinic that offers alcohol and substance abuse and behavioral health counseling services. This gives Guest House a unique advantage in addressing and mitigating many of the perpetuating factors that contribute to chronic homelessness.

With 20 percent of homeless men in Milwaukee having served in the US military, Guest House recognizes that vets often need a transitional housing program. In 2010, Guest House implemented such a program in partnership with the Veteran’s Administration to provide outpatient treatment for Vets. 

In 2011, Guest House used 45 raised garden beds on a vacant lot to launch its Cream City Gardens program. Through the program, guests receive job training in the agriculture and green industry while also benefitting from the addition of fresh produce to their meal program. 

Perhaps the most unique and potentially life-changing opportunity that Guest House offers is its full-time employment specialist, who meets with guests to provide employment classes, job coaching and assistance in finding jobs and making contact with employers.

“Guest House provides food, shelter, treatment programs, job training and a pathway to permanent housing to help solve both the causes and symptoms of homelessness in Milwaukee,” says donor Paul Eberle. “They have a documented track record of success.”

While Guest House focuses on men, who make up the majority of the homeless population, it also serves women and families in its more than 450 apartments throughout Milwaukee County.

Guest House recently launched a unique fundraising drive on social media, using video testimonials from a variety of local notables who support the organization, including David Lubar and Patrick Dunphy. Elizabeth Brenner, the former president of the Journal Sentinel, served as a consultant on the campaign, which features the camerawork of award-winning Los Angeles-based cinematographer Greg Cooke, formerly of 60 Minutes and the Ken Burns Vietnam documentary.

If you’d like to get involved, you can make a donation or volunteer your time by handing out hygiene supplies, providing meals, teaching an employment class and more. 



Elisabeth Wallock is a contributing digital editor at Milwaukee Magazine. She graduated from Colorado State University and has interned at Marie Claire in New York and Urban Outfitters in London.