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.)
The Mission Continues
A big THANK YOU to Joe Schwarzrock and his amazing volunteer crew at The Mission Continues (TMC) for completing a much needed deck rehab project at one of our transitional homes in Minneapolis last week.
TMC does such great work and we are very grateful for this awesome partnership, everything you do and have done in the past to ensure our transitional homes are being well taken care. It also means a great deal to our Veterans as well. We look forward to working with you on more projects coming up next month!
If you would like to find out more information about The Mission Continues and ways to help, please click here.
Staff, partners, and friends:
In this time of loss, anger, and sorrow in our community, and as we reflect on injustice and hardship, we at MACV are keenly aware of the challenges that our Veterans are going through. For many it is trauma upon trauma.
Our staff are members of our Minnesota community, many are Veterans, and some are still serving themselves.
I am proud that we as an organization continue to show up, through our grief, for our Veterans, and for our communities that we care deeply about.
Please know that we continue to operate.
We continue to bring our energy, creativity, and compassion to our community’s Veterans.
If you are working with Veterans who are struggling, with housing, employment, or legal issues, continue to refer them to MACV.
If you are working with Veterans who are struggling in ways that we did not imagine before the past week, or the past months from the Covid-19 pandemic, please refer them to MACV and we will problem solve and serve those who have served us.
Please share this message to other partners on your team and in the community who are working with Veterans.
Be well as we repair our systems and communities to work for all of our neighbors.
Housing Story by the Family Housing Fund.
To end veteran homelessness, a unique public-private partnership has developed in Minneapolis. The Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans (MACV) has partnered with a private property management company – Property Solutions & Services (PSS) – to develop a referral system that prioritizes permanent housing for homeless Veteran households.
Three years ago, PSS had taken over management of a troubled Minneapolis building where a nonprofit partner was connecting residents to social services. When that project ended, Asher Gavzy, President and CEO of PSS, was inspired to pursue social services for residents. And with the statewide push to end Veteran homelessness in recent years, MACV was his first choice.
The partnership started informally. When PSS had a vacant unit, Asher reached out to Colleen Salinas, Metro Landlord Engagement Specialist at MACV, before listing it publicly. Colleen, working directly with Veteran households, helps determine if the unit will be a good fit for one of her clients. Then MACV ensures the Veteran household has a variety of support, ranging from access to a social worker, housing vouchers, and even funds to cover moving costs to help ensure the Veteran will be a successful tenant. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the particular vulnerabilities of individuals experiencing homelessness and further underscored the need to ensure that everyone is safely housed.
Veterans experiencing homelessness may struggle to find housing because of criminal backgrounds or rental history. Asher says that MACV’s support for Veterans helps mitigate the perceived risk of housing someone who does not meet PSS typical screening criteria.
“We took a different approach that said ‘we need more tools that decrease the risk of housing individuals with backgrounds. Now it’s a good business move, it’s not just taking a chance,” says Asher.
It’s a win-win-win for MACV, PSS, and Veteran households. PSS saves time and money by filling vacant apartment units quickly, while MACV helps ensure Veterans have a safe, stable home.
“Once they’re housed, they stop experiencing other issues,” says Colleen. “The Vets (in the building) look out for each other and hold each other accountable.”
Now the partnership is more formalized, with several PSS buildings under contract to reach out to MACV before publicly listing a unit. So far, 26 Veteran households have found permanent housing as a result of this partnership, and all of the Vets have been successful tenants.
For Asher, “it’s about getting people housed and keeping them housed. And it gives them an opportunity to build good rental history, so they can choose where they go next if they want to move.” After three years, Asher says he absolutely prefers to lease to households referred from MACV, especially now as the COVID-19 pandemic has made listing units more challenging and time-consuming. “You’d be foolish not to do it. It’s a financially smart decision.”
MACV is encouraging more property owners and managers to partner with them using the same model. And it’s even easier now than when PSS first began partnering with MACV, as last year, state funds have created additional resources to mitigate risk for owners who help Veterans find permanent homes. These include an initial incentive for owners, a vacancy loss fund, and a risk mitigation fund managed by HousingLink.
Shaun Riffe, Development Director at MACV, has an even greater vision for the impact of this work. “If we can figure this out for Veterans,” he says, “we could use this same model for any population with similar backgrounds or housing challenges.”
For now, MACV’s focus is engaging more property owners and managers around the Twin Cities to join the program. But MACV’s Chief Financial Officer Brian Peterson is hopeful that this approach can bring long-term change to how we approach housing.
“When everyone gets together and shares their best capabilities, we can do a lot more and house people differently.”
If you own or manage rental property and are interested in housing a Veteran, please contact Colleen Salinas at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here is the statewide summary of the availability of County Veteran Service Offices (CVSO), DAV, Minnesota VA, and other Veteran services across the state of Minnesota, with notes on how Veteran and families can receive services and how to contact each office.
Check out these resources and feel free to share with others:
Minnesota COVID-19 Updates: www.health.state.mn.us/diseases/coronavirus/index.html
US Dept of Veterans Affairs: www.va.gov/
Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN 23): www.visn23.va.gov/
Area VA Medical Centers:
• Fargo VA Health Care System: www.fargo.va.gov/
• Minneapolis VA Health Care System: www.minneapolis.va.gov/
• St. Cloud VA Health Care System: www.stcloud.va.gov/
• Sioux Falls VA Health Care System: www.siouxfalls.va.gov/
VBA Regional Offices: • Fargo: www.benefits.va.gov/fargo/
• Sioux Falls: www.benefits.va.gov/siouxfalls/
• St. Paul: www.benefits.va.gov/stpaul
• Managing Stress and the Threat of COVID-19: https://www.health.state.mn.us/communities/ep/behavioral/stress_covid19.pdf
• COVID-19 and Healthcare Responder Stress: https://www.health.state.mn.us/communities/ep/behavioral/responder_covid19.pdf
• Parent/Caregiver Guide to Helping Families Cope With COVID-19: https://www.nctsn.org/sites/default/files/resources/fact-sheet/outbreak_factsheet_1.pdf
We are grateful to the Leonard J. Mikulay Foundation for their contribution to building our newest transition home for Veterans in Bloomington, MN.
The LJM Foundation’s support and compassion to creating housing options in Minnesota has been critical to our success.
The Bloomington home will provide transitional housing for up to two years to Veterans and their families. Shelters may provide options for homeless veterans, but there are few options that allow the family of a homeless Veteran to stay together.
MACV will continue serving Veterans but we are reducing our physical office coverage and in-person meetings consistent with the MN Department of Health and CDC’s new telework and social distancing measures.
We have staff assisting Veterans daily via phone, text, and email. We understand that some Veterans experiencing homelessness may not have some of these resources. We will be reducing our onsite staffing but will remain available to provide services to those Veterans without any other means of communication. Hours of operation will be updated regularly on our social media, website, and through our partner agencies. Currently our offices in Mankato, Duluth, and St. Paul will closed to walk-in services starting March 27th.
We are committed to staying connected with Veterans in every community across Minnesota. It is important that we protect your health and the health of our personnel. Our entire staff will be available to assist virtually while we continue to comply with the mitigation strategies set by our state and federal leadership.
Contact information for the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans (MACV)
Main Line: 1-833-222-6228
Email Vetlaw: email@example.com
Last week our Mankato Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans (MACV) team was honored to selected at the Peoples Choices and recipient of $1,000 donation from Thrivent Financial.
The Impact Celebration was held at the Mankato Civic Center on Sept. 17th by the Thrivent Member Network-Two Rivers Region. The event featured local nonprofit organizations and a community impact fair.
Thank you to Thrivent Financial and every who attend this event for this wonderful gift that will go to help Veterans in southern Minnesota.