Intersecting identities are a prevailing theme in MACV provider stories. While we focus our services on Veterans, the nature of the U.S. military includes multiple generations and life stages. Case Manager and Army Veteran Amanda Hooper recently engaged with a Veteran in his seventies who recently suffered the loss of a close family member. After the remaining family decided to sell the house in which the two had resided for years, Ron* now had nowhere to live.
After reaching out to his VA case worker, who brought in MACV to secure short-term shelter for Ron, our team placed the Veteran in one of our partner hotels. Our staff collaboratively worked with the VA worker to address Ron’s barriers, which include myriad health conditions and no significant income. The Veteran’s adamant self-advocacy to stay in the community where he formerly resided added another layer to the case.
“He wanted to be someplace where his ties to the community were,” explains Hooper. When Ron was approved for his housing voucher and able to secure a residence in his community where his “regular life” was, it seemed like this was an open-and-shut case. MACV paid for the security deposit, first month’s rent, and connected Ron with resources to furnish his home as well as a move-in kit. The VA also provided home furnishings to help Ron get established on his own.
However, shortly after moving into his new home, Ron discovered a bizarre complication with his Social Security payment: the Social Security Administration (SSA) thought he was dead. Ron had not received his benefit for a few months before this point, but multiple addresses and the flurry of activity to house the Veteran had put this situation on the back burner.
“I’ll give him props, he’s very much on top of it,” notes Hooper. Ron immediately reached out to both his case workers to problem-solve this latest hiccup, which is set to resolve during a meeting at the local SSA office in early March. Given these complications and the slow pace of righting inaccuracies, losing a steady address is especially disastrous for Ron right now. As a result, MACV decided to provide the Veteran’s portion of the rent payment until his payment resumes.
Coordinating the medical, social, and financial needs of Veterans ranging from 25 to 90+ is a difficult juggling act every provider at MACV undertakes. Working with SSA in addition to the VA requires the ability to function within different administrative structures, but the decisions made by staff at these separate agencies have equally huge impacts on our clients. Ron is lucky to have such a committed expert on his team as Amanda, and we are confident that Ron can look forward to smooth sailing ahead!
*Veteran name changed to protect confidentiality
The Mankato Elks Lodge is proud to partner with MACV’s southern region team in pursuit of our shared goal of assisting the local Veteran community. The Mankato Elks Lodge appreciates that MACV is on the front lines and can easily assess needs and eligibility for the Elks programs. We are blessed to have several current and former MACV employees join our Lodge to help further our mutual goals.
This collaborative partnership has taken many forms over the years; the Lodge has supported MACV by providing vouchers for food or fuel, fundraising assistance, strong partnership in local Stand Down events, and otherwise providing Veterans help in their time of need. The Mankato Elks Lodge also launched their “Welcome Home Kits Program” 5 years ago, specifying MACV Veterans as the recipients of their generosity. The kits provide many household items to MACV Veterans moving into housing after an episode of homelessness.
With more than 1.1 million members in more than 2,100 Lodges nationwide, the Elks is one of the largest and most active fraternal organizations in the United States, as well as the largest civilian-run Veteran-focused organization.
“So long as there are Veterans, the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks will never forget them.”
Standard Heating & Air Conditioning is one of our steadiest supporters, donating in $25 increments over the course of the last four years. In total, Standard Heating has contributed $3,475 since 2017, as well as substantial in-kind gifts to MACV properties. Your support is appreciated now more than ever!
Graham Smith, the owner of Integrity Lakes Real Estate, has donated more than $18,000 from house sale proceeds to MACV since 2018. He educates his clients about MACV’s work and our cause to end Veteran homelessness, and we have recently expanded our partnership with his business by reaching out to his buyers at his request. We thank Integrity Holdings for this steady support and wish them a profitable 2021!
“Veteran assistance has always been a priority with the Masons, and remains a focus of Minnesota Masonic Charities,” said Eric J. Neetenbeek, president and CEO of Minnesota Masonic Charities. “MACV provides proven programs to Veterans who face homelessness while leveraging existing state programs. We have been very impressed with their outcomes.”
Grand Master Ethan Seaberg of the Grand Lodge of Minnesota agrees. “My introduction to MACV came partly through thanks from a veteran who’d used their services. By chance he learned I was a Mason, and he made a special effort to thank Minnesota Masonry for our assistance. Along with the support of Minnesota Masonic Charities, our Grand Lodge should be proud of our support of MACV.”
Together, the Masonic organizations have gifted nearly $350,000 to MACV, most recently with a combined gift in 2020 of $75,000 to help expand on the Council’s most promising programs for mitigating the barriers to housing many Veterans face.
Those barriers include complications Veterans often experience as a result of wounds both mental and physical. When working in partnership with MACV, many landlords typically will overlook tenant applications that list a history of, for example, past evictions or a criminal record correlated with addiction or mental illness.
“There are so many obstacles to people getting apartments,” said Brian Peterson, MACV’s Chief Financial Officer. “Our goal is for MACV’s programs to overcome those barriers and achieve housing outcomes for homeless Veterans otherwise not possible.
“The Masons really helped us support our Master Leasing Program, which was a catalyst for a complete shift in approach to how we engage landlords in our mission,” said Shaun Riffe, Development Director at MACV. “It was one of many examples of the Masons giving with an encouragement to also try new ideas and creative solutions to achieve our mission. The flexibility of the support from the Masons has allowed us to grow that program into what we now call a Landlord Engagement Program.”In 2018, Masonic support helped pilot MACV’s Master Leasing Program, in which the organization leased apartment units from landlords and then sublet the apartments to homeless Veterans. The program established strong relationships with landlords throughout the state, and provided stable housing to hundreds of Veterans.
The updated program takes out MACV as the leasing “middle man,” and instead supports the Veterans and the landlords with services to ensure each tenant’s success.
“As part of the discovery process, we realized we needed to address the needs of the landlords first,” said Riffe. “When a landlord gets a MACV client, they are fully aware of the background of the Veteran coming in. We ask landlords to look past those issues because of our involvement.”
MACV landlord engagement specialists work with each Veteran client and are available to their landlords should any issues arise.
“Landlords can call the specialist and say, ‘Hey, I’m having a problem with this client,’” said Riffe. “We have that relationship. It has led to almost zero evictions. In those rare situations when somebody does need to be removed and its not a good fit, we can arrange for them to move out of the property without an eviction on their record and work with the client to go the next step. Everybody’s understanding that there’s somebody there to help and to keep this going.”
The organization starts by placing one or two Veteran clients with new landlords to the program to build that working relationship. In all cases thus far, landlords are happy to accept more MACV referrals, and so the program grows.
MACV also worked to help launch the state-funded “Landlord Incentive and Risk Mitigation Program,” which provides landlords who rent to Veterans-with-barriers with incentives such as vacancy loss reimbursement.
With the help of Masonic funding, MACV has also added “Healthcare Navigator,” a licensed social worker dedicated to connecting clients with the health resources they need on their path to stable housing.
“We’ve been doing this for 30 years,” said Peterson. “We’re not doing this on an island, and our mission is much larger than what just our organization can achieve alone. We partner with agencies throughout Minnesota around shared goals to help those most in need to achieve stable housing.”
For more information on the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans, visit mac-v.org.
Originally published January 21, 2021.
Occasionally, a story of a Veteran’s resilience and determination amazes even the most cynical listener. Becky Weise, MACV’s Red Lake Veterans Outreach worker located in northern Minnesota, recently worked with an Air Force Veteran rebuilding a life for herself and her two children.
Dorothy* first approached MACV to complete an intake after her brother engaged with Weise to ask for help getting his sister off his couch and working toward a stable life. Dorothy had couch-hopped and stayed with family for the past year and a half while losing custody of her children and sinking ever-deeper into substance abuse. She escaped intimate partner violence at the hands of her children’s father, who was imprisoned for his attack.
“She just didn’t care…she just had no interest, she wanted to be how she was,” Becky described as her first interaction with Dorothy. The Veteran received $140 for service-connected disability per month from the VA but had no other income. She initially wanted to apply for an increase in the percentage of service-connected disability rating she had, which affects the monthly payment amount eligible Veterans receive. However, Dorothy did not follow through with this goal and dropped off the radar, eventually blocking Weise’s follow-up calls.
All of that changed, though. Dorothy approached MACV for a second time in late summer, after connecting with a HUD-VASH housing case worker. Melody, the Veteran’s HUD-VASH worker, referred her back to Becky to help create a housing plan after Dorothy completed a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program.
Becky, Melody, and Red Lake Homeless Shelter staff all partnered to stabilize Dorothy’s housing. Becky connected with the Red Lake Homeless Shelter Executive Director Jordan May, who secured a hotel stay for Dorothy upon her return from treatment. “I thought of the Red Lake Homeless Shelter right away because Jordan had just started a hotel program for [Native Americans] with close to zero income,” explains Becky.
Dorothy stayed in this temporary arrangement for two weeks before her HUD-VASH worker found an eligible property for her and her children as a long-term housing placement. Finally, Becky authorized direct financial assistance to cover Dorothy’s move and security deposit.
Looking ahead, the future is bright for Dorothy and her kids. “She’s doing well, I’m really happy for that,” Becky related in a recent interview. Dorothy’s next goal is to find employment, a process she wants to complete on her own. For now, she and her children are safe, happy, and feel better about what lies ahead than ever before. Great work, Becky and team!
Everyone who served this country should have a home in it.
Minnesota counted at least 308 homeless veterans on Veterans Day 2020. That’s 100 more than last year, despite enormous efforts by state agencies, nonprofits and volunteers to help the veterans who need so much more than our thanks.
On Veterans Day, like every day, Minnesota was working toward that goal.
On Veterans Day, like every day, we fell short. You can make a difference here!
“They were already walking that tightrope, and the pandemic just pushed so many people off the edge,” said James McCloden, an Army veteran who went from jumping out of planes to jumping to the aid of fellow veterans through his work at the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans (MACV).
The layers of disasters of 2020 — pandemic stacked on civil unrest stacked on recession — has left some Veterans with nowhere to turn.
“One thing goes wrong, two things go wrong, they can handle,” McCloden said. “But six things go wrong? I’m not sure I could handle six things going wrong in my life.”
The first thing that went wrong for Deborah Spencer was a broken leg.
The 52-year-old Army veteran had a career and a condo in Chicago’s Tinley Park neighborhood a year ago. Then she got hurt, missed work, ran through her savings, moved in with her sister in Rochester, Minn., and found herself in the middle of a pandemic, looking for a place to live with no place to go.
That’s when she turned to MACV and asked for help. Today, she’s living in Chaska and working at a new job and grateful to all the Minnesotans who helped her get back on her feet.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” she told Gov. Tim Walz and a small group assembled to celebrate one bit of good news 2020 had to offer: Chaska and other suburban metro cities saw their homeless veteran populations drop to zero this year. You can make a difference here!
“You couldn’t have told me this time last year I’d be living in Chaska, Minnesota. I’d never heard of Chaska, Minnesota,” Spencer said. “But I believe things happen for a reason.”
One more veteran has a home. Three hundred and eight or so to go. Teams from MACV comb the streets, visit encampments and knock on tent flaps, looking for veterans who need help and are willing to accept it. Hotels or other transitional housing are often a first step toward rebuilding their lives.
They found one veteran sleeping in her van with her four children.
MACV staff moved the family out of the cold and into a hotel, where the children tried to do their homework in the lobby.
“We realized we can do better,” said Shannon Gregory, MACV metro regional leader, whose team found a local homebuilder who offered the family transitional housing in a new home north of St. Paul.
“They went from living in their car, then living in a new home; now they live in a beautiful four-bedroom home,” Gregory said. “That is the impact of the work we are doing.”
It’s hard work, made harder by a pandemic that complicates every single step in the process of finding a home. You can make a difference here!
The pandemic can make it hard to house hunt or job hunt. The pandemic also makes it hard to get the basics you need to apply for a job or sign a lease.
“Getting I.D. — people don’t understand just how difficult that has been,” said McCloden, whose teams work with veterans for months, trying to smooth the obstacles between them and a stable, permanent home. “Without identification you can’t get a job. You can’t sign a lease without identification.”
No two veterans are alike; no two veterans face the same obstacles. Some need landlords who can look beyond a criminal record or history of substance abuse or a group home that isn’t in pandemic lockdown. Some need a home with space for their children and pets — not every hotel is willing to shelter a veteran who arrives with a dog; even fewer want to take in a cat, McCloden has learned.
It can take months to move a veteran out of hotels and into a home. For those months, MACV staff are there to serve the people who served their country.
On Veterans Day, there were cookies. On Thanksgiving, there will be turkey. On the days between, there will be people there to help. All you have to do is ask for help.
“There’s hope,” Spencer said. “Don’t give up.”
If you’re a veteran who could use some help, call the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs’ toll-free helpline: 1-888-LinkVet (888-546-5838.)
Over the past year, Edina Realty Foundation has funded the entire remodel of our Veteran transitional home in South Minneapolis. This week proudly showcased this brand new modern kitchen with their staff. They even brought move-in kits with all the supplies to get things cooking. Thank you for continuing to improve the lives of those who served!
Xcel employees came together on September 11th and 12th to complete landscaping and outdoor living projects at two of MACV’s Veteran transitional homes in St Paul.
The first of two projects included an extreme makeover on the outside of our of our older residences, which provided eye-popping curb appeal and rendered the home’s next-door neighbor speechless when he stopped by. The Veteran who currently resides in the home was amazed at the transformation and very grateful.
In between the two days of service, a representative from the Minnesota United Soccer team visited our new home in North St. Paul and donated a framed, signed jersey now proudly displayed in the home. Xcel also donated two smart thermostats and LED light bulbs to provide green energy solutions for several of our transitional homes.
On September 12, the volunteer group built a picnic table for our newest transitional home in North St Paul, along with five raised garden beds we plan to deliver to three other homes throughout the metro. Last but not least, the group led by Xcel President and COO Bob Frenzel installed a flagpole and American flag which now proudly flies in the front yard. What a great way to end the day and wrap up their two days of service for MACV!
Both days had volunteers of all ages lending a hand to support our mission of ending Veteran homelessness. It was so wonderful to see young kids pitching in to help and learn what volunteering is all about, which warms the heart. Great job, kiddos!
These two days were an amazing experience which will have lasting impact on the Veterans MACV serves. We cannot thank the Xcel coordinators and volunteers enough for all of the hard work that went into making this partnership a success. We look forward to working with you again soon!