MACV wants to highlight the remarkable commitment shown by Mankato Area Cornhole, a newer partnership which has flourished over the last year thanks to owner Jason Zuehlke and Sadie Rezac, MACV’s Southern Region Leader.
Zuehlke and Rezac first got to know each other while planning a fundraiser in 2019 with another MACV partner in Southern Minnesota. Zuehlke’s competitive cornhole tournaments often contain a fundraising element with proceeds donated by entry fees, in-kind donations, and financial giving contributed during the event itself. “He’s really good at making it fun,” notes Rezac.
Even though COVID-19 derailed plans to combine a hog roast with a cornhole tournament for 2020’s event, Zuehlke was determined to press ahead with a fundraiser for MACV. He reached out to his community to designate MACV as the beneficiary of a tournament hosted in October at the Nicollet VFW Post, requesting that all attendees bring an item to donate as well.
The event resulted in collecting dozens of high-quality items such as gift cards, cold weather gear, and hygiene products, as well as over $2,800 donated to benefit MACV programs. We hope that the end of winter weather and resuming larger gatherings leads to even more growth in our relationship with Mankato Area Cornhole. We wish Mankato Area Cornhole a happy Thanksgiving from the thankful group at MACV.
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!
MACV’s Vetlaw team is proud to announce that earlier this month, we served our 10,000th Veteran!
The Vetlaw program’s roots can be traced to late 2009, when a small group of attorneys and law students partnered with MACV to host our first legal clinic at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center. Over the years, the program gained full-time staff and grew to provide services to Veterans across the state of Minnesota.
While the sheer volume of services provided is impressive, it is important to understand the real-world impact of these services on our Veteran clients. Each Veteran served, whether at a legal clinic event or directly by our staff attorneys, receives individualized advice and counsel on the legal issue which drove them to reach out to us. Many of these Veterans were facing eviction or post-eviction legal issues, while some were struggling to regain driver’s licenses, or the collateral consequences of past involvement with the criminal justice system.
Regardless of the legal issue, the Vetlaw team and our veritable army of volunteers did our best to counsel the Veteran with respect and patience, helping them navigate the often confusing and stressful world of the court system.
The dedication of Minnesota’s legal community to serve our Veterans is unmatched – it always surprises me when programs around the country ask how we find attorneys to help. We just ask and they come through for our Veterans. Even as our clinics took a hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic, our faithful volunteers have reached out to ask how they can help support us and our clients. I am not exaggerating when I say that we truly could not have reached this milestone without the support of our wonderful community supporters.
All of us were blown away by your amazing support over the past two weeks of giving. Your commitment to match every one of our sponsors’ challenges in just a matter of hours was unbelievable, and we could not have met this milestone without your help. Your generosity doubled our previous year’s record on Give To The Max Day. We were also the only organization to win two Golden Ticket prizes this year for an additional $1,000 toward our mission. We cannot express our gratitude for your continued support of our mission to ensure no Veteran goes unsheltered this year. Thank you from the entire team at MACV!
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.)
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!
Shannon Gregory, Metro Regional Leader for MACV, sat down with Minnesota Military Radio to share how MACV combats Veteran homelessness in Minnesota. Listen to their conversation here!
The pressures associated with COVID-19 often add volatility to the living situations of Veterans who are currently housed. One such individual recently engaged with us, reporting that his current living situation is escalating and that he’s struggling with his mental health. Local case manager Kathy Kraft worked with the Veteran to identify communities which best fit his housing needs. She discussed the options she knew of in these areas with the Veteran and then enlisted the help of a fellow provider working at the Salvation Army’s local shelter to provide the Veteran with a temporary “landing place” while securing long-term housing. Remarkably, the Veteran moved into long-term housing at a property identified as a good match with his needs one day after arriving at the shelter.
Securing housing is only the first part of this Veteran’s story, however. MACV also assists Veterans to ensure long-term housing stability. In this individual’s case, he lost his job in January and has since survived on subsistence allowance, a temporary benefit offered by the Veteran Benefits Administration. This benefit is set to end in coming months, sparking the need for the client to figure out how to secure income in order to remain stable. After working with the Veteran to determine whether employment or relying on financial assistance is a better avenue for this individual, Kathy is now helping him apply for long-term benefits. This includes coordinating with the local County Veterans Service Officer to explore eligibility for Veteran-targeted programs.
MACV providers frequently partner with County Veteran Services Officers (CVSOs) to benefit from their expertise and knowledge of resources available to the Veteran population in their community. “My CVSOs are all awesome and welcome the chance to work with us,” says Kathy. “They appreciate the constant feedback and communication. It works well out here as for partnerships.” MACV considers itself fortunate to have such strong partnerships both inside and outside Veteran-focused organizations. We cannot fulfill our mission to end Veteran homelessness without this important support.
One area of expansion in MACV’s work to end Veteran homelessness focuses on specialized services for currently and formerly incarcerated Veterans. Justice Involved Veterans Coordinator Mikaela Hunley, M.A., works with staff at each correctional facility throughout the state to address the housing and stabilization needs of Veterans coming out of incarceration. She also collaborates with landlords, other community partners and MACV staff to meet the transitional needs of recently released former inmates struggling to reintegrate into society. Her focused expertise serving this subgroup of homeless Veterans closes an all-too-common gap in services which often lands Veterans in homelessness and then in the justice system.
Mikaela recently worked with a Veteran scheduled for release from Faribault Correctional Facility. The inmate qualified for 100% disabled Veteran status, entitling him to both financial and healthcare benefits from the VA, prior to his incarceration. Mikaela got the wheels in motion to activate these benefits upon his release, a process likely to take around two months to complete.
The case manager also engaged with the Veteran’s parole officer to learn about his conditions of release, which is often crucial in keeping Veterans out of the justice system once they’re on parole. “It helps [the Veteran] through this to ensure that he doesn’t violate parole and get sent back,” Mikaela notes. Lack of familiarity with the rules they need to follow upon release from incarceration often lead to recidivism for former inmates. Repeated offenses only worsen the cycle of instability, incarceration, and a resulting drain on community resources.
Restrictions on where recently released parolees can live often complicate the process to find housing, which was a reality for the Veteran Mikaela assisted. However, the incredible network of landlords with whom our team has cultivated relationships came to the rescue in this case. Mikaela not only secured a lease for the Veteran, but MACV also approved direct financial assistance to cover the client’s security deposit and rent for two months. The Veteran’s disability benefits should reinstate after this early period of resettling in the community and offer a stable source of income which can easily cover his living expenses.
Hunley’s work also includes exploring benefits eligibility and ongoing contact with parole officers to ensure compliance with the conditions of release each justice-involved Veteran has. Internal collaborations with MACV provider staff help ensure the Veteran’s transition to a long-term housing case manager and development of a long-term service plan. Thanks to Mikaela’s diligence and our outstanding housing team, we know that this individual is in good hands and has a fighting chance to succeed in the outside world.