Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service

30 Years of Serving the Homeless

Started in 1991, Repairers of the Breach serves 80 people per day.

Tommy Kirk, pictured with board president Rebecca North, has been with Repairers of the Breach for a year and enjoys connecting people to what they need. Photo by PrincessSafiya Byers/NNS.

Tommy Kirk, pictured with board president Rebecca North, has been with Repairers of the Breach for a year and enjoys connecting people to what they need. Photo by PrincessSafiya Byers/NNS.

The Rev James West, the executive director of Repairers of the Breach, spent three months trying to lose 30 pounds — a pound for every year the nonprofit that serves Milwaukee’s homeless residents has been open.

He knew he needed to start a weight loss journey and was motivated by the idea that it could help Repairers of the Breach, 1335 W. Vliet St., raise money to expand its reach.

So Repairers of the Breach launched the 30 for 30 campaign, which allowed people to pledge money for every pound West lost.

West ultimately lost 17 pounds and raised $1,500. He said the experience helped him find a new way of looking at how his organization serves the community.

“Lifestyle changes are hard and that made me think about the people we serve,” West said. “If that one lifestyle change was that hard for me, and I have the means to do it, imagine how difficult they are for the people we serve.”

‘Lifesaving, life-sustaining and life-restoring’

The nonprofit opened in 1991 and focused on advocating for and with people facing homelessness. Three years later, it became Milwaukee’s first daytime homeless resource center.

Since then, it has continued to grow. Repairers of the Breach operates on a $1.17 million budget and serves about 80 people daily, West said.

“Our goal is lifesaving, life-sustaining and life-restoring,” he said. “To celebrate 30 years, we want to dig into that life-restoring piece.”

He said Repairers of the Breach hopes to raise enough money to give at least five people the opportunity “not to worry” for six months to a year.

“It’ll be kind of a pilot program,” West said. “If we take care of their housing, food, basic needs and therapy if they need it for at least six months, we allow them not to worry and to be able to that restoring that we want.”

Tommy Kirk, center manager for Repairers of the Breach, said the nonprofit focuses on ways to better serve residents.

In addition to being an emergency warming center anytime it’s under 20 degrees, Repairers of the Breach also houses a day sanctuary for people to get out of the cold, a resting room for people who work second or third shift, an emergency clothing center and programs such as art therapy.

“The part that is near and dear to my heart is being able to check in on what they need,” Kirk said. “Unfortunately, our members won’t always tell us what they need so being able to have those conversations and provide them with what they might need is amazing.”

West said Repairers of the Breach, which employs 12 people, is primarily staffed by volunteers. “Everyone else is just here because they believe in our mission,” he said.

Carol Ryan, for example, retired from Froedtert Hospital over 10 years ago and now spends her free time volunteering in the Repairers of the Breach free emergency clinic.

“I wouldn’t know what to do if I couldn’t do this,” Ryan said. “I love being able to provide medical care, a hot meal and a kind word.”

How you can help

Repairers of the Breach is always looking for donations and volunteers.

“If you don’t have money or time to give,” West said. “Reach out. There is always something you can do to help.”

Click here to find ways you can assist Repairers of the Breach.

‘Lifesaving, life-sustaining and life-restoring’: Repairers of the Breach celebrates 30 years of serving homeless residents was originally published by the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service.

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