No military veteran should be without housing

Published 5:54 am Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Star Tribune

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

It’s not often you get Minnesota’s diverse congressional delegation to speak with one voice. But all eight House members and both senators did just that recently, urging Congress and the Department of Veterans Affairs to step up efforts to end homelessness among vets.

Email newsletter signup

Many of America’s servicemen and women make a successful transition to civilian life, but not all. According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, there is no one mold that fits those whose struggles at some point leave them homeless. They are men and women, and about half have disabilities or serious mental illness. They can be found in cities, rural areas and yes, suburbs. A majority wrestle with substance abuse. Half of them are over 50.

That’s why U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith and Reps. Jim Hagedorn, Angie Craig, Dean Phillips, Betty McCollum, Ilhan Omar, Tom Emmer, Collin Peterson and Pete Stauber have sent a letter to Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie, spotlighting the Minnesota Homeless Veteran Registry and asking whether it might serve as a template for a federal push.

Created in 2014, the registry was the first of its kind in the country. Since then, it has helped house nearly 1,700 veterans across the state, with about 200 still homeless.

Using analytics and a coalition of agencies, the registry finds and tracks homeless vets and connects them to needed services. That’s anything from hooking them up with a hot meal to finding a place to live and getting them treatment. And the registry workers don’t wait for vets to find them. They go to shelters and other places where vets may gather, to reach out with help. Regional groups confer regularly with teams of social workers on every individual in the registry.

As Kathryn Monet, chief executive of the National Coalition told Star Tribune reporter Chris Serres in a story earlier this year, “The intensive, collaborative approach that we have seen in Minnesota is unique — and is a model for the rest of the country.”

Minnesota is not at zero homeless yet. According to Tommy Johnson, the state legislative officer for the District 7 Minnesota VFW, problems remain in the state’s most populous counties of Hennepin and Ramsey. He’d like to see more specific training for housing officials who deal with vets and, specifically, a veterans’ preference on available housing for the homeless.

But the Minnesota approach has had enough success that Neal Loidolt, chief executive of the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans, has said that some of the lessons learned in working with homeless veterans are being applied to the broader homeless population.

It’s good to see this state’s congressional delegation banding together to bring a Minnesota solution to a wider stage. After the sacrifices made for their country, no veteran should lack for housing, treatment or whatever other assistance they require to successfully re-enter civilian life.