Madison building project plan supports veterans & their families - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Madison building project plan supports veterans & their families

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MADISON (WKOW) -- A plan up for a vote this week would bring more support to veterans and their families in Madison. 

Dane County officials want to turn an unused property on E. Washington Avenue into an affordable housing project that would prioritize availability for veteran families. It would have 64 two-bedroom, apartments, which officials say is the biggest project in the nation that's specifically-designed as housing for veterans and their families. 

The ground floor would be the new home to Dryhootch, a service organization for veterans. The organization has made a significant change in many veterans lives since opening in the community in 2012. 

"I need the feedback and the experiences that they have to allow me to understand that I'm not alone," said Erhard Opsahl, an Army veteran. "Others kind of depend on me to share my thoughts. I depend on them and try to make it week by week."

Opsahl has become a peer group leader after spending several years going to meetings to talk about his PTSD with other veterans. He says the time he spent in Vietnam left him with demons, which many other veterans also struggle to cope with in civilian life. When he learned the dramatic statistics of veteran suicides, he knew he had to get involved. 

"It was just kind of a 2x4 over the head, saying there's a lot of people out there who need help and I do too, so this was a natural for me to come here," he told 27 News.

Dryhootch's current office is a small space on University Avenue. The new location would be a significantly bigger spot for group meetings and other organized events. Plus, Dryhootch expects to be able to offer new services for veterans and their families, like daycare and a gym. Some leaders with the group would like to start an auto repair clinic. 

Dane County initially purchased the former Messner building to turn it into a day resource center for the homeless, but when plans formed to create the Beacon at a different building, County Executive Joe Parisi says they turned to the neighborhood to get feedback on what to do with the site. Neighbors said they wanted workforce housing. 

"It'll be a mixture of workforce and market rate housing," Parisi said. "These are people who have jobs but in today's housing market, housing is so expensive, some folks still can't afford the market rate."

If the Dane County Board approves the plan at a meeting Thursday night, construction could start next spring and may be finished by the end of 2019.

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