Governor Dayton and the Minnesota Interagency Council on Homelessness joined 10 Minnesota Mayors and public leaders around the country in committing to end Veteran homelessness by the end of 2015. Minnesota’s progress on this goal – and the nation’s as a whole – will be measured by the annual Point-in-Time count held each January to identify and count people experiencing homelessness. The next Point-in-Time count will occur on January 28, 2016.
While we await results from the 2016 Point-in-Time count, Minnesota has a good handle on our progress to date and the challenge remaining to reach the end of Veteran homelessness, thanks to the Minnesota Homeless Veteran Registry. During last year’s Point-in-Time count, we identified 297 Veterans statewide, as part of the largest push to identify Veterans ever conducted. Since then, 23 Veterans we identified have left the state or become incarcerated. In one tragic case, a Veteran on the Registry died before he was housed. The most important news is this: we’ve housed 339 homeless Veterans since January 2015. As a measure of progress, it is significant that more Veterans have been housed to date than were originally identified in the 2015 Point-in-Time count.
On July 8 Hilton Hotels in Minnesota joined three other states in a new program that provides accommodations to Veterans searching for jobs outside of their residential area. Hilton Worldwide and the National Association of State Workforce Agencies (NASWA) have partnered with the state of Minnesota to assist military Veterans with finding fulfilling jobs. The HHonors Military program was designed to give back to military service personnel through providing HHonors points to eligible transitioning service members, Veterans, and military spouses. By becoming a HHonors Military member, Veterans will receive a 100,000 point donation to their account. These points can be redeemed to support travel expenses related to job-search activities.
Upon entering the Hastings Veterans Home woodshop, one is greeted with the strong aroma of freshly cut wood accompanied with the consistent clamor of men hard at work. Mike Kriel, the Woodshop Coordinator, steps proudly into the room and states with a smile, “Welcome to my playground.”
Gerry Falkowski, the coordinator for the Disabled American Veterans of Minnesota (DAV) Donor Connection Program, recently received a Certificate of Recognition on behalf of Governor Mark Dayton for his dedicated service to the program. The MN Donor Connection Program works to connect Minnesotans looking to donate medical equipment with Veterans in need. Falkowski has been the vital link between linking this equipment and Minnesota Veterans in need.
Since mid-2009, Disabled Veterans have been able to ride the transit systems throughout the state for free; some Veterans are still unaware of this benefit. It is one more way the State of Minnesota has chosen to honor Veterans. And with each adult Transit ticket costing between $2.25 and $3.00, this benefit helps Veterans keep a couple extra dollars in their pockets, and helps tremendously for Veterans needing special disability vehicles to travel.
Governor Mark Dayton and the Minnesota State Legislature voted to expand the Minnesota GI Bill to include more Veterans. Previously only Veterans who served after September 11, 2001 were eligible for the Minnesota GI Bill, which supplements other Veteran education programs. Now, under the new law any Veteran under age of 62 who has served honorably in any branch of the armed forces during any time period may be eligible.
“This is important because the program will now assist the Veterans who need it the most,” said David Bellefeuille, director of the Higher Education Veterans Programs for the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs. Many pre-9/11 Veterans have either used all their federal education benefits, or they have expired. The enhancements to this program will now assist all Minnesotan Veterans with long-term employment opportunities. The plan starts with education and financial assistance to help Veterans, who have served and sacrificed for this country, achieve their goals.