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.)
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.
Message to all MACV Clients Currently Receiving Services – Call Us!
At Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans, we are keenly aware of the struggles that many Veterans are experiencing as we cope with the impacts of the Coronavirus emergency. MACV continues to operate and serve Veterans, and delivering our services through phone and email whenever possible.
While we have assisted you in the past year, if your situation has changed and you are now facing uncertainty or challenges that are putting your housing stability at risk, please don’t wait – reach out to us now. Our housing, employment, and legal services teams are ready to support you as needed.
In addition to our direct services, there are a growing number of benefits and resources becoming available for those most impacted in this time. We are assembling a growing list of resources and information about our availability on our website at COVID-19 Link.
Call our staff today:
For legal support, call VetLaw:
We sincerely hope that you and yours are well, we want to hear from you!
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