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Work Begins on MacCanon Brown Homeless Sanctuary

Building on Center Street will provide food, shelter and community

Jan. 3, 2017
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On Dec. 30, the MacCanon Brown Homeless Sanctuary purchased a five-story building that will provide daytime shelter and much-needed services for homeless and at-risk people in Milwaukee’s inner city. The 35,000-square-foot structure is located in the heart of the 53206 ZIP code, considered the most impoverished neighborhood in Milwaukee, a city ranked third worst in the U.S. for urban poverty among the country’s 50 largest cities.

We named MacCanon Brown Homeless Sanctuary Volunteers and Staff "Heroes of the Week" in July 2016 for providing services, hope and dignity to Milwaukee’s homeless population.

The prime mover behind the project, Sister MacCanon Brown, is a well-known Milwaukee activist from her years with Repairers of the Breach, a social-service organization she co-founded. After parting with Repairers, “a group of people came together and formed this new organization, knowing my work needed to continue,” she says, adding, “Against my wishes, they put my name on it.” 

Humility and service are at the heart of her mission. “It became clear that this is my true path—I’m called to this work,” she says. “But it is much larger than myself—being able not just to dream but to actually obtain this building which holds immense potential for thousands of people seeking a safety net.”

Brown hopes that work will begin this spring on rehabbing the building, a former factory-turned-warehouse. The first floor—providing basic services such as food, clothing and showers—is scheduled to be fully operational in fall. The Sanctuary will be developed story by story, with one floor devoted to employment services, one to an array of health clinics, one to urban agriculture and aquaponics, and one to providing an auditorium and meeting rooms for community groups. A garden is planned for the rooftop. 

The first-floor meal program will eventually involve nutritious food grown on site. As work begins on the building, Brown will initiate a “doorway ministry” offering food and clothing to the needy at the Center Street entrance. More fundraising will be necessary to cover construction costs. 

According to Brown, some 250 volunteers have already signed onto the project, including neighborhood residents, supporters from as far away as Ozaukee County and Greenfield and teams of faculty and students from UW-Milwaukee and Milwaukee School of Engineering. “There is so much synergy between us and our dynamic partners,” she says. “We’ll be able to open the upper floors more rapidly thanks to their energy.” 

The MacCanon Brown Homeless Sanctuary is located at 2461 W. Center St. For more information visit mbsanctuary.org.

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