Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin: A Case Study In Saving Homes To Build Community

post card from the 1870's showing a bird's eye view of Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin
Fort Atkinson Wisconsin, circa 1870. These days it faces a big city issue: homelessness.

Hospitals have discovered that there is more to the cost of demolishing houses than the demolition and disposal fee1. Demolition and disposal contributes to the climate crisis by releasing embodied carbon, but there’s more. People who live close by don’t like to see the homes of their neighbours coming down.

So, when Fort Memorial Hospital in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin needed more space for parking(!), it wasn’t entirely surprising that local agencies wanted to save the houses that were on the parcels where the parking lot was planned. Homelessness was increasing and low priced housing for families was in short supply.

The process of getting approval to build the parking lot took time. And that time gave the hospital and the community the opportunity to figure out how to save the houses which were so badly needed.

It’s interesting that this whole initiative was not part of the hospital’s plan to address community health issues. The hospital knew from its community health needs assessment that there was a housing issue, but it had no immediate plans to intervene in the field. But when presented with the opportunity, the hospital decided to step up.

Saving two homes is a small result, but it’s far from the only outcome. To get to the point of saving the houses, hospital personnel and the community had to be willing to sit down and face community issues together. The article linked below chronicles the evolution of a few acquaintances to a robust network across hospital personnel, community agencies and local council members. During those conversations, the initial idea of saving homes from the wrecking ball also evolved.

The City of Fort Atkinson has a population of 13,000. Being small is sometimes seen as a disadvantage. Compared with larger communities, small centres may lack capacity and resources, potentially allowing problems to grow and fester. The article linked to this post suggests otherwise. As well, the relationships that have developed seem like a good foundation for more collaborations going forward.

You can read more in Shelterforce: Instead of Demolishing, Hospital Lets Homeless Coalition Relocate Houses


  1. Try: Urban Redevelopment: A Case Of Failing To See Who’s There