Twin Cities pledge to end vet homelessness

Minneapolis and St. Paul are aiming to shelter every veteran by 2015.

Twin Cities pledge to end vet homelessness

Tyler Gieseke

After serving in the U.S. military, veterans sometimes struggle finding permanent places to live.

“They find it very hard to reintegrate,” said University of Minnesota sociology professor Teresa Gowan.

Minneapolis and St. Paul joined two other cities last month in a pact to eliminate veteran homelessness by 2015. Though some University of Minnesota experts say the initiative is encouraging, they’re also skeptical of its feasibility and limited scope.

Housing is just a first step, Gowan said. Even if veterans are successful in getting a home, she said, there are other factors involved, like the challenge of finding work in a weak economy.

More than 300 Minnesota veterans were homeless in 2012, and that number declined over the previous three years.

The Twin Cities have been working to end veteran homelessness for years, said Cathy ten Broeke, the state director in preventing and ending homelessness. The recent announcement will hold them accountable, she said.

“We have made significant progress over recent years through our joint work with Hennepin County, but there is still much to do,” Mayor Betsy Hodges said in a City of Minneapolis statement.

From 2007 to 2011, the population of homeless veterans in Hennepin County dropped by about 33 percent, according to Heading Home Hennepin, a group dedicated to ending homelessness in the county.

A recent federal funding boost will help homeless veterans in Minnesota afford existing housing, ten Broeke said. The subsidy will cover housing expenses after veterans pay one-third of their income.

Similar plans to end veteran homelessness are rolling out across the country. The Twin Cities’ pact is with Columbus, Ohio, and Des Moines, Iowa. Phoenix and Salt Lake City are also working toward comparable goals, ten Broeke said.

Government and charity agencies will work in the next year to abolish any existing barriers for veterans trying to find homes, ten Broeke said, like a lack of transportation and affordable housing.

Still, some are skeptical of some parts of the plan. Brenda Kayzar, an assistant professor in the University’s Department of Geography, Environment and Society, said she supports the cities’ commitment to eliminate homelessness, but the specific focus on veterans is “disingenuous.”

There should be a focus on ending homelessness overall, she said.

Ten Broeke agreed and said that helping homeless veterans is just one piece of a larger puzzle.

‘Culture shock’

Veterans are overrepresented in the nation’s homeless population, Gowan said.

Political science and history senior Dusten Retcher, who served in the military from 2008 to 2011, said leaving is a “culture shock” — going from a more structured life in the military to civilian life.

Veterans often feel disconnected with society when they leave the service, Gowan said, and some abuse drugs and alcohol.

Veterans sometimes choose to be homeless to remain anonymous, Gowan said. Homeless shelters may actually provide a place to avoid getting in conflicts with family members when veterans return, she said.

Besides helping veterans find homes, Retcher said it’s important to have resources available to keep them from returning to the streets. He said he’s seen homeless veterans seek help from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and end up homeless again.

State, county and charity leaders will meet next month to create specific strategies for housing veterans, like working with landlords to gain more access to affordable housing, ten Broeke said.

The Twin Cities are on the threshold of an end to veteran homelessness, she said.

“Let’s just get it done.”