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!
Lavender Magazine wrapped up a monthlong online auction to benefit MACV on October 8, which resulted in raising over $3,500 to support our programs. Thank you for such committed partnership, Lavender; we look forward to continued collaboration for years to come!
Wells Fargo and Apple Autos collaborated to donate a brand-new, payment-free Ford F-150 to MACV in addition to 6 move-In kits to help homeless veterans get back on their feet and back on the road. Valued at over $35,000, this gift greatly increases MACV staff’s capacity to serve our Veterans and care for our properties. Thank you so much, Wells Fargo and Apple Autos!
Tough. Strong. Self-reliant. These words capture what immediately comes to mind when describing Veterans, military personnel, and the people who support them. We also describe people experiencing domestic violence with these terms, and too often we encounter a person who identifies as both a Veteran and a victim of domestic violence.
Events in the past six months have created a nearly 20% jump in Veteran homelessness rates throughout Minnesota, and a growing number of these Veterans are women. “We see the same barriers over and over,” comments MACV case manager Kimberly Dotstry. What sets this period apart is the additional challenge posed by accessing resources and safe shelter while complying with public health and safety protocol.
Shifting demographics in the U.S. military compels MACV to continually assess our approach and its effectiveness for women. Female Veterans often face additional barriers to stability compared to their male counterparts, such as primary responsibility caring for minor children with smaller incomes than men. Mental illness, trauma experienced either inside or outside the line of duty, substance abuse, and volatile behavior contribute to the challenge women face when seeking services from mainstream military service organizations. Attitudes in the armed forces which emphasize self-reliance and a soldier’s “toughness,” while beneficial and embraced in military culture, can counteract Veterans’ willingness to seek help.
Women often become homeless when escaping domestic violence; Veterans are no exception to this reality. About a third of women Veterans experience intimate partner violence at some point in their lives, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. The Defense Department’s most recent report on sexual assault in the military showed a 38-percent increase in assaults against women service members since 2016. During times of crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, domestic violence tends to increase as couples face unprecedented stress and instability.
According to MACV Case Manager Kimberly Dotstry, “When a woman is fleeing domestic violence, she is automatically homeless in that moment.” Women who depend on their partner for financial stability are particularly disadvantaged when fleeing an abusive relationship. Establishing the trust necessary to learn about these painful experiences and their impact on the Veteran often takes months of careful work from skilled service providers.
October is domestic violence awareness month. To learn more about this issue and how the VA can help, please visit their website.
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!
When Dave* first landed on Case Manager Marie Pollnow’s radar, his recent housing story already included three chapters. Starting with his release from prison, this Veteran had initially stayed with a friend in her residence until her own activities threatened to violate Dave’s conditions of parole. Deciding that his freedom was more valuable than a comfortable home, Dave enlisted the help of his family to move into a motel while he figured out his next steps to stable housing.
While this story sounds typical for many of our Veterans so far, Dave had the rug ripped out from under him when the motel owner decided to nearly double the occupancy rate. Even with help from family and friends, Dave found he could no longer live in this arrangement and instead started living out of a tent. Moving on a nearly daily basis to avoid trouble and stay safe, our incredibly resilient Veteran still managed to succeed in a position as a dishwasher during this point in his journey.
Marie first met Dave after he started living in a tent, and one day after he managed to secure full-time employment at a local outdoor sports retailer . “It’s very humbling to work with him because he’s been through so much,” notes Pollnow. “He’s so grateful for every little thing we do to help him. He’s constantly saying, ‘thank you so much, thank you so much’…he’s just a model client.”
Marie worked quickly to find a hotel placement for Dave, who was working in the service industry full-time and experiencing unsheltered homelessness, two major risk factors for exposure to COVID-19. He currently resides at a local motel, a setting which he found “incredible” after life in a tent. Dave declared that the first thing he wanted to do was take a bath while listening to music, both great examples of the privileges so many MACV clients cannot take for granted.
These days, Dave is focused on “keeping his nose clean” and in good standing with his parole officer while the MACV team assists him with securing long-term housing. While this process can be arduous and frustrating, MACV can now promise Dave that if he stays out of trouble, he has a place to stay and does not have to worry about becoming homeless again. For Dave, that assurance is enough to keep him moving forward.
*Name changed to protect client confidentiality.
WCCO covered our targeted work to get Veterans out of situations that could expose them to COVID-19, illustrating the changes we have made in order to safely help those in need.
“We’ve got to have our own street outreach team. Try and partner up with a community partner if you can, but get out there, get to the camps, get under the bridges, get to the parking lots at night and find veterans where they are,” CEO Neal Loidolt explains.
Watch the video here!