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UWNEMN purchases home for single veterans

The Hibbing Daily Tribune - 5/6/2018

HIBBING - There is a great need for transitional housing in northeastern Minnesota for those who have served their country.

And since the inception of its United for Veterans program in 2014, the United Way of Northeastern Minnesota has been working to serve those veterans who are homeless or at risk of being without shelter.

But those efforts, such as putting up veterans in hotel rooms for a few nights, have only been short-term solutions.

Now, after a year of searching for "the right place," the UWNEMN has purchased a four-bedroom, three-bathroom home in Hibbing that will provide transitional residence for up to four single veterans.

A community open house will be held at from 4 to 7 p.m.May 23 at the home at 2509 Second Ave. W., and veterans will move in shortly thereafter.

The house has been made possible thanks to "an exciting partnership" with the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans in Duluth, which provides a comprehensive program and services to homeless veterans in the areas of housing, employment and civil legal concerns.

MACV's ultimate mission is to end homelessness for veterans in Minnesota.

The UWNEMN has a "deep-rooted relationship" with MACV, said Erin Shay, United Way community impact and engagement director. Therefore, "we decided to reach out to their organization to avoid duplication of services and determine whether there was an interest in establishing a Structured Independent Living House on the Iron Range."

MACV - which maintains 11 structured transitional housing units for veterans, and 22 units of permanent housing with supportive services for disabled veterans in Duluth, Mankato, Minn., and the metro area - was "excited about the opportunity to partner" on the Range, she said.

MACV assures that the homes are clean, safe and drug-free, and provides numerous support services - coordinating chemical dependency and mental health treatment, crisis intervention, life skills training, educational and employment initiatives, family support, transportation, money management training and counseling, and re-establishment of socialization skills.

Along with the UWNEMN and its United for Veterans initiative, which fills in gaps in services for area vets, other community entities such as the Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency, Lutheran Social Services and the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs will partner with MACV to provide assistance for veterans at the residence, said Kevin Beichler, who leads MACV's services across northern Minnesota.

The goal is for veterans to obtain and retain permanent housing. While "it's a 24-month program" and residents can live at the transitional home for up to two years, Beichler said, most veterans attain stability through those services and transition to their own housing in about six to nine months.

UWNEMN purchased the house in Hibbing in March, thanks to fundraising efforts, including money raised at the annual Rampage at the Ridge extreme 5K obstacle mud run, which supports United for Veterans.

"UWNEMN has been writing area foundations for donations to offset the purchase price and cost of repairs," Shay said, explaining that house, which was "flipped," required $8,800 in licensed repairs, which were recently completed.

The Owens Family Charitable Foundation was the first organization to support the project, gifting the UWNEMN with a $20,000 grant. "We are so thankful for their generous contribution and support of our project and of local veterans," Shay said.

Hibbing was chosen as the location for the Iron Range transitional house because it has more services available to veterans than any other in the area, she said.

Providers include the Hibbing VA Clinic, County Veteran Service office, a veterans higher education coordinator at Hibbing Community College, and a veterans employment representative at the city's Minnesota Workforce Center.

Additionally, the Salvation Army of Hibbing serves meals to the community five nights a week and Project Care, which has a location there, provides free medical care. The majority of the facilities are within walking or biking distance from the home, and public transportation is available.

Since word has been out about United for Veterans, United Way has been in contact with many veterans facing homelessness, and "we saw an influx the past year and half to two years," Shay said.

However, UWNEMN had limited resources for providing crisis housing for those veterans, who need more stability and assistance than what three nights in a hotel can offer, she said.

"We knew that MACV was the expert when it came to housing and case management services. They have a long-standing positive reputation throughout the state."

MACV served 108 veterans and their families in northeastern Minnesota in 2017, and more than 50 so far this year, Beichler said. Not quite half of those are on the Iron Range. In 2016, MACV assisted 80 families in St. Louis County.

There are some individuals and families who are "in imminent risk of losing housing," meaning within the next two weeks, and at least one veteran will be placed in the house as soon as it's ready, he said.

Many homeless veterans suffer from mental illness or dependency issues that are "possible symptoms of their military service," Beichler said.

A past history of chemical dependency, alcohol abuse, and legal or transportation issues and difficulty finding a livable wage are also often contributing factors.

"We provide a place that is a step forward" by working with veterans on such things as stabilizing their environment, reducing their debt load, improving their rental history and obtaining sustainable employment that will provide for permanent housing.

MACV strives to build "positively motived veterans," he said. "Often a transitional housing option is a necessary step on a veteran's path to a long-term sustainable housing situation."

Veterans living at the Hibbing house will be responsible for cooking and cleaning, and UWNEMN is currently working to furnish the home. New or gently used donations of everything from cookware to cleaning supplies, as well as financial contributions, will be accepted.

The home is also registered under the charity sections at both Target and Walmart.

UWNEMN is additionally accessing its own Good360 program, which provides household goods to those in crisis, and the Hibbing Veterans Community Thrift Store to obtain bedding, towels, rugs, and other items.

Any extra donations will be used to put together "essential care packages" of such things as bedding and hygiene products for veterans as they transition into housing of their own.

"MACV's mission of ending veteran homelessness in Minnesota can only be achieved through relationships and working together with our neighbors, partners, and the community," Beichler said. "We couldn't do this without people like Erin and (UWNEMN Executive Director) Shelley (Valentini) and the United Way.

"We are ready to move forward and start placing veterans" at the Iron Range location, he said, adding that community members and partners are invited to attend the open house to "see what we've been doing." The event will include a barbecue and refreshments.

Community volunteers will be working to clean and landscape the house May 15 and 16, Shay said.

"We are really excited for this opportunity to help area veterans," she said.

Beichler agreed. "We look forward maintaining long-lasting relationships with our partners. The community will have a major role in this, including employers" and educational facilities.

UWNEMN and MACV are open to the possibility of exploring additional homes for the area, Shay said. "We've already had community members asking us if and when we plan to open a home for veterans who have families."

That will definitely be considered in the future, she said.

"This is a success story for the United Way and for us," Beichler said. And, of course, for the veterans.


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