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Military affairs beat: Finding homes for homeless veterans

  • Article by: Mark Brunswick
  • Star Tribune
  • January 22, 2013 - 6:50 PM

The Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Health System will hold an open house Wednesday night to seek public comment on a $10 million plan to rehab several vacant century-old buildings at Fort Snelling into housing for homeless vets.

A 4-acre site on the Upper Post of Fort Snelling is expected to provide 58 rehabbed units for homeless veterans and their families. The hearing, set for 6 p.m. in the auditorium of the Minneapolis Veterans Medical Center, is required to allow public comment about the proposal and its effect on the buildings' historic status. State historic officials, veterans advocates, and members of several American Indian tribes are scheduled to attend to review and comment on the plans, which are about 30 percent complete.

The plan to renovate the buildings was announced in late 2011 by the VA and St. Paul-based CommonBond Communities, a nonprofit provider of affordable rental homes. If everything goes as planned, the units will be available by the spring of 2014.

The Upper Post portion of Fort Snelling is on the south side of Hwy. 55, which separates the Upper Post buildings from the Historic Fort Snelling site at the junction of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers. The proposal reflects a nationwide effort to find uses for vacant VA buildings and to address veteran homelessness. At the time the Fort Snelling proposal was announced, the VA had entered agreements to provide more than 3,000 units of permanent and transitional housing for veterans at 25 VA medical center campuses nationwide and another 1,000 units were pending or underway.

Last week, Hennepin County, the state's most populous, said its 2012 annual count of homeless people found the number of homeless veterans had fallen to 126, down from 267 in 2009. County officials say the success is a result of collaborations between public and private-sector partners to identify homeless vets and help them navigate programs to address physical, mental health and addiction problems, as well available state and federal aid.

Mark Brunswick • 612-673-4434

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