The number of homeless veterans in Minnesota has dropped significantly in three years, likely a result of targeted efforts by nonprofits and government partners to identify and house them, according to a new Wilder Research study.
From 2012 to 2015, the number of homeless vets fell by 27 percent, from 580 to 422. That’s a steeper decline than that of the overall homeless population in the state, which dropped by 9 percent during the same time period.
“It’s very promising that homelessness among veterans is going down, but there is still a group of veterans with a long history of homelessness and a lot of challenges to being rehoused,” said Wilder Research scientist Kristin Dillon, who co-authored the report.
One game-changer has been the creation of a state registry of homeless veterans in late 2014.
The registry helps identify homeless vets staying at shelters and transitional housing, leading to conferences at which government and nonprofit employees can discuss an individual’s progress in finding housing, said Eric Grumdahl, Minnesota’s special adviser on the issue.
“We are going veteran by veteran with a team around the table. We shoot for the fastest housing outcome we can achieve,” Grumdahl said. “Since that registry has launched, we have housed 730 previously homeless veterans. We are now actively working with 234 homeless vets.”
Finding veterans a place to live often isn’t easy.
Red flags, such as criminal records and past financial problems that show up during routine background checks, are among the most common reasons veterans say they are on the streets. About 40 percent of homeless vets say background checks that reveal problems have kept them out of housing, according to the Wilder study.
On Veteran’s Day Friday, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges expects to be working the phones, calling landlords to urge them to rent to veterans, Grumdahl said. “We need landlords to come forward and say yes,” he said.
Another obstacle is illness. More than 60 percent of homeless vets reported chronic health issues, and 62 percent say they have a serious mental illness.
“Over one-third of homeless veterans in the study had a history that suggests likely traumatic brain injury,” according to the Wilder study.
Addressing those health issues is the first step in helping a veteran find and maintain a home, Dillon said. “There is a lot of work happening in Minnesota, including the governor’s mental health task force,” she said.
Since the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation started its state homeless survey 25 years ago, the number of homeless vets peaked at 702 in 2003.
About 90 percent of the state’s homeless vets are men, and the average age is 50.
That’s a decade older than the overall homeless population.
A little more than one-third reported being homeless for three years or longer.