Success with homeless vets

Much of the news this summer has been dire: a tornado in north Minneapolis that rendered hundreds homeless; a state shut down and a budget that slashed critical services; a persistent lack of jobs; more newly homeless families and children flooding our shelters. It is easy to lose hope.

Despite these incredible and increasing challenges, there is good news as well. All but three of the families who were in shelter because of the tornado have been assisted back into homes. Over 1,000 of our community’s longest-term homeless individuals and families are now stably housed. Our new one-stop-shop Opportunity Centers for adults and youth are breaking down silos and more effectively connecting people to what they need to escape homelessness.

The resiliency and commitment of the people and agencies working to end homelessness is unwavering. One of the brightest lights of late is our community’s work to end homelessness among veterans.  

As I have said before, this is not a question of can we end homelessness. My office and our community partners know what works and, when we have the tools, we are successful. The question we are faced with is: Will we end homelessness?

This question has everything to do with community and political will. Will we have the commitment as a city, county, state and nation to provide the resources that we know we need to be successful? Work around ending homelessness for veterans shows that we just might have that commitment.

Last year, the president signed the first ever Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness. The first goal in that plan is to end homelessness among veterans by 2015. I am happy to report that so far this has not just been a statement. We have also been given the tools.

Across this country, thousands of Section 8 housing vouchers have been distributed, including 290 new vouchers for long-term homeless vets here in the Twin Cities. These vouchers allow veterans to pay 30 percent of their income on housing while the program covers the rest. Equally as important, the housing is linked to whatever supportive services the veterans need to remain stably housed.

This initiative has already ended homelessness for over 140 veterans in Minneapolis, including Ron. A native Minnesotan, Ron served in the Marine Corps. Like many who experience homelessness, his occurred after a job loss and divorce. He was homeless for years, but is in housing now. Today, Ron meets regularly with legislators and others to educate them on what helped him move from a mat on the floor of a shelter to his own apartment.

There is more. Hennepin County, in its commitment to veterans, developed a Veterans Court, providing a holistic approach to serving veterans who show up in the legal system. The Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans recently was successful in securing an additional $1,000,000 to provide more case management and direct assistance to veterans and their families throughout the state.

The most recent development is that Minneapolis was selected by the VA to be one of 17 sites around the country to develop a one-stop service center for homeless or near-homeless veterans. This idea is based on the success of co-locating services in one place, much like our Project Homeless Connect events and now our Opportunity Centers. This is still in the development phase, but my office is partnering with the VA and many others on this effort and we are extremely excited about developing a center for veterans where their very specific needs can be met and one that will be coordinated with all existing efforts and services for veterans.

We learned long ago what we need to end homelessness. We need to create housing that people can afford and assist people to afford the housing we have. For some, services are critical to help sustain housing. What is happening now for veterans is a great example of what commitment and laser focus can do. Imagine if we had the same laser focus on children and seniors, people with disabilities and the rest of our neighbors.

Cathy ten Broeke is the Director of the Minneapolis/Hennepin County Office to End Homelessness.