Veterans 1st Transitional & Affordable Homes Article

Press Gazette Article for Veterans 1st of Northeast Wisconsin

Suamico couple works to bring tiny homes for veterans to northeastern Wisconsin. Tina Dettman-BielefeldtFor Green Bay Press-Gazette

Members of the Veterans 1st of NEW board of directors are, from left, Rick Giesler, Gail Nohr, Kim Nohr, and Jeff Reince. The agency is planning on building tiny homes for veterans in northeastern Wisconsin. A few weeks ago, Americans honored past and present military members on Veterans Day. And while many pause to recognize veterans one day a year, Gail and Kim Nohr of Suamico have made it their year-round mission.

Gail, a U.S. Navy veteran, and her husband, Kim, a retired union contractor, have started a nonprofit business called Veterans 1st of NEW ( Their primary goal is to provide a safe and supportive veterans community of tiny homes for those in need of transitional and affordable housing.

Gail explained: “My last job, where I spent five years, was working at the Brown County Veterans Service Office. I took calls daily from veterans desperately looking for shelter and affordable housing, and had a hard time helping them. The problem is only getting worse; I felt that I needed to do something about that.”

With a degree in substance abuse counseling and having worked as a counselor at a veterans shelter, Gail saw first-hand the struggles that many veterans face. While serving on the Brown County Homeless & Housing Coalition, she said she was inspired by the work that area agencies are doing and wanted to help out. That led to a plan to create a housing village with supportive services.

“I got the idea for building a tiny homes village after visiting the Racine tiny home veterans village,” she said. “They have a 75% success rate for moving veterans from homelessness to sustainability in 14 months. We would like to do the same.”

Her husband, with his years of experience in the building industry, came on board to serve as project manager, contractor, and building maintenance expert. Together, they are finalizing a business plan with the help of dedicated volunteers who serve on their board of directors. They are working with community leaders and have filed for nonprofit status.

“We have been talking to Brown County administrators and the city of Green Bay Housing Authority about where would be the best place for our village to be built,” Gail said.

“Ideally, we would like to be near the VA clinic so our lodgers have a place to use their facilities for counseling and medical care. The biggest consideration is to be on a bus route,” Kim added.

One hurdle faced so far is that the municipality is unlikely to allow homes as tiny as those in Racine, an average of just 128 square feet. Instead, they will need to provide a minimum of 400 square feet. If everything goes according to schedule, Phase One will begin this summer with occupancy in the fall, and will include four homes and a community building.

Veterans 1st of NEW is looking to build tiny homes for area veterans.
Then, in the spring of 2024, five more homes will be added with an additional 10 planned for Phase Three. When completed, they hope to have three 600-square-foot homes for transitional residents that are handicap accessible; 16 400-square-foot homes with affordable rents, and the community center.

“Kim crunched the numbers and drew up a detailed business plan that shows sustainability," Gail said. "Our mission is to provide safe and supportive transitional and affordable housing to veterans of northeast Wisconsin.”

The nature of the project has garnered great support, and mentors have helped in the process. The Nohrs have been guided by Zach Zdroik, the executive director of the Veterans Outreach of Wisconsin, based in Racine; U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher’s office; Noel Halvorsen and staff at NeighborWorks in Green Bay; and Laurel Haak, a mentor with the Green Bay SCORE Chapter.

“Almost every person we meet wants to help veterans in this capacity so that they can excel,” Gail said. “We have had contractors, electricians, schools and unions reach out to us to offer assistance.”

Further help will come from alliances with churches, mental health agencies, and other groups that can help provide wraparound services. Those include financial literacy lessons, job training and placement, apprenticeship training, art therapy, woodworking classes, gardening, and construction. Classes will be offered at the community center, the core of the village.

“We have several union construction members on our board who are also volunteering to do installation so it will get done right. We have three construction and general contractors who will donate their time and talents to the building of the houses and the commons building,” Gail said.

Those efforts will help to keep costs lower so that the project can move forward. Gail and Kim stressed that there is a great need for affordable housing in Brown County.

“There is a current undersupply of affordable housing in Brown County according to the Blueprint Study at the rate of 3,700 units," Gail said. "Veterans make up 11% of that number resulting in a 400-unit deficit of affordable units.”

As of August, there were an estimated 76 veterans in homeless shelters in Brown County. According to the Veterans Administration, housing instability and homelessness increases the likelihood of suicide. Those statistics alarm and motivate the Nohrs to try to make their vision a reality as soon as possible.

“We are also very aware of other complex issues that veterans face,” Gail added. “By removing the concern as to where they will be living, we will be able to navigate them to resources and address individual needs as they arise.”

As they talk about the challenges faced by veterans, they have also experienced their own. It has been challenging to find property, raise awareness, work within community zoning restrictions, and comply with business regulations. When issues are difficult, Gail said they look to the community for assistance.

“Our strength is that we have many connections with community organizations and are able to partner with them in support of our mission," she said. "We are touched by our nonprofit in many ways. Veterans have stood up and offered their lives to defend our country so we would like to do all we can to help them in every way possible starting with transitional and affordable housing.”