As local programs get more federal money, homeless vets find homes


Laid off as a laborer and truck driver for the city of Minneapolis in the depths of the recession, Wes Winkelman found himself unable to find another job.

Homelessness and trouble followed. He drank too much.

“The first victim of homelessness is sobriety. You’ve got nothing else in life to do. You’re broke. After awhile, stuff happens,” Winkelman, a week short of 58, confides as he describes his transition from self-supporting to unemployed and homeless to housed.

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His life spiraled downward. “One thing led to another. I got into some mischief,” he admits, giving for example a DWI and also mentioning medical problems.

Nights, the 1970s U.S. Army veteran and medic laid his head in homeless shelters, listing among the best those operated by St. Stephen’s Human Services and Simpson Housing Services.

On the other hand, at the worst shelter in town, he says, “It’s kind of scary because some of the people in there are pretty much like me, bozos, but some more are in need of adult supervision. More are in need of correctional supervision. Some are in need of real looking at.”

His homelessness lasted until he found housing two years ago with the help of a permanent supportive housing program funded by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Now he lives in a one-bedroom apartment near 36thand Grand Avenue on the south side of Minneapolis.

Numbers decline

A new report shows there are 33 percent fewer homeless veterans in Hennepin County between 2010 and 2011, thanks to an influx of federal dollars and the local folks who help house the homeless and keep them housed.Nationally, the veterans’ homeless rate over the same period dropped by 12 percent.

Fifty-eight more veterans now live in apartments rather than on the street or in shelters in Hennepin County.

Further, homeless advocates learned Jan. 19 that for 2012, $75 million has been allocated nationally to house homeless veterans through the HUD-VASH permanent supportive housing program.

Veterans testified at the State Capitol last year about changes to General Assistance Medical Care. (Photo courtesy of St. Stephen’s Human Services)

Local folks are celebrating their collaborative efforts for a variety of reasons including the fact this is a challenging group to house.

“This isn’t a program that creams, that tries to serve the easiest persons,” says Cathy ten Broeke, who heads the Office to End Homelessness in Minneapolis and Hennepin County. Homeless veterans often have more mental health problems than the general population, often suffering post-traumatic stress and anxiety disorders, as well as chemical dependency, she says. Without housing and support, she says, they often end up with costly medical bills.

There are other issues. With rental vacancy rates at 1.5 percent, the lowest in a decade, “There is literally no housing available that people can afford,” without help, ten Broeke says.

In Hennepin County the numbers of homeless fell from 201 in 2010 to 143 in 2011, with the numbers of these homeless persons who once served their country estimated at 19 percent of homeless single adults. Numbers are based on a one day shelter and street census of homeless persons taken in January 2010.

Money and help

The coordinated program called HUD-VASH combines both voucher dollars for Section 8 housing as well as help with veterans’ personal issues such as mental illness, substance abuse and unemployment. HUD helps fund the housing and the VA provides the support.

Minnesota now has a total of 290 of those housing vouchers allocated for homeless veterans, with 205 of them going to Hennepin and 85 to St. Paul, reports Jonelle Draughn, homeless program coordinator for the Minneapolis VA Health Care System.

So far, 170 vouchers have been issued in Hennepin County, with 30 additional people in the process of getting vouchers. In St. Paul, 72 vouchers have been issued, Draughn says.

With a Section 8 voucher a veteran pays 30 percent of his or her income, whatever that income is, Draughn says.

Once homeless persons are housed in apartments, the VA program “works on other pieces that come together for a better quality of life,” such as integrating back into the community, taking care of physical and mental health and developing new relationships and finding jobs, Draughn says.

Funding for her program has increased dramatically, from three persons to 21 over the last five years. She says the Obama administration has resolved to end veteran homelessness by 2013.

Typically, she says, Minnesota’s homeless veterans as male, with only 12 percent female. Most are mid 50s to 65, so are considered Vietnam era vets though they did not necessarily fight in that war.

Asked whether she expects to see more homeless vets as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are winding down, she points to a more preventative approach coming together in Minneapolis where a veterans’ resource outreach center is scheduled to open in May at 1201 Harmon Place.

These days, though still unemployed because of physical problems following a knee replacement, he says, Winkelman is an advocate for the homeless, speaking at churches, talking to state legislators and Hennepin County commissioners. He tells them he is happy to have his own place to lay his head at night.