Former serviceman plans collection drive Nov. 11 to combat overlooked problem
On Veterans Day Monday, Nov. 11, Vietnam-era veteran Neil Traxel of Grafton hopes to fill the hall at Circle B Recreation Center in Cedarburg with household items for formerly homeless veterans.
The items will be given to the Milwaukee Homeless Veterans Initiative to distribute.
“I want to start with it empty and fill it with donations and people,” said Traxel, manager of Circle B.
People can begin bringing items to the hall at 5:30 p.m. or drop donations into collection bins at American Legion halls in Port Washington, Grafton and Cedarburg, Christ the King Lutheran Church in Port Washington and St. John’s Lutheran Church-Lakefield in the Town of Grafton.
A color guard ceremony will be at 6 p.m. by the Rose-Harms American Legion Post 355 in Grafton.
A representative of the Milwaukee Homeless Veterans Initiative will explain how the nonprofit organization, which was started in 2008 by two Vietnam veterans, has expanded to help the 300 to 400 homeless veterans in the city and the 5,500 veterans identified as at risk because of their low income or living situations.
The organization is run by five paid staff members and more than 60 volunteers, most of them veterans and some formerly homeless themselves.
Traxel and fellow Vietnam-era veteran Mike Furlott of Port Washington are now among the volunteers.
Furlott not only collects items for veterans but also spends one day a week fixing things at the Milwaukee Homeless Veterans Initiative Center at 7222 W. Fond du Lac Ave.
“I feel blessed that I can give back my time and talent to fellow vets — all brothers and sisters who gave their all for freedom’s sake,” Furlott said in an e-mail.
“It’s a tragedy that this country has homeless Americans. It is absolutely wrong that we have homeless vets.”
An Air Force veteran, Furlott suffered a hearing loss from loading bombs onto jets while he was stationed in Thailand.
“I enlisted in the Air Force for four years or I would have been drafted into the Army. I just couldn’t see myself carrying a weapon and shooting people,” Furlott said.
“Upon discharge, I returned home to the UP — glad to be done fighting a useless war.”
Sometimes a message just hits home, and that happened to Traxel when a veteran with the Homeless Veterans Initiative spoke at Christ the King Church in the spring.
When he learned that one out of every four homeless people in Milwaukee is a veteran, Traxel said, he had to help and he brought Furlott on board.
“There are so many things that you want to do for them. Nobody should have to sleep under a bridge,” said Traxel, who goes to the center at least twice a week with his car filled with donations.
Traxel joined the Navy on his 18th birthday, April 12, 1966, to avoid being drafted into the Army and sent to Vietnam.
“I joined the Navy to see the world, and I didn’t want to get shot at or killed,” Traxel said. “I’m so happy I went into the Navy.”
For a time, Traxel was homeless himself and understands the trauma. His Port Washington trailer home was destroyed in a fire July 1, 2006.
“I lost everything,” he said. “With help from my church and insurance, I was able to buy a better trailer in Grafton. It all worked out.”
By building trust with homeless veterans, the Initiative helps them get benefits, housing, medical care, clothing, food and other things they need.
When veterans find a place to live, the Initiative provides furniture, household items and toiletries, and that’s where Traxel and Furlott help.
In addition to furniture, donations of bedding, towels, appliances, kitchen items, dishes, utensils, toiletries for men and women, cleaning products and paper items are needed, Traxel said.
For more information on the Nov. 11 event or to arrange a pickup, call Traxel at 377-7223 or e-mail
Circle B is at 6261 Hwy. 60.
Image Information: VIETNAM-ERA VETERANS Mike Furlott (left) and Neil Traxel picked up a container filled with donated household items at the VanElls-Schanen American Legion Hall in Port Washington. The items will be given to veterans being helped by the Milwaukee Homeless Veterans Initiative. A collection event will be held Veterans Day, Monday, Nov. 11, at 5:30 p.m. at Circle B Recreation Center in Cedarburg. Photo by Sam Arendt