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.
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!
Golden Valley Golf Club hosted their third Tee It Up for the Troops event to benefit MACV on Sunday, September 13. The fundraiser combined an exciting golf event with an inspiring opening ceremony and tribute to our nation and military, then ended the day with a rousing reception and auction to raise more funds for Minnesota Veterans. Special thanks to Pat Reis for this opportunity!
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.