The Minnesota Veterans of Foreign Wars took the opportunity on Veterans Day to honor a local property investment and apartment management company for its role in working to alleviate veteran homelessness.
Sela Investments and general manager Amy Gonyea were given the award for their work at a fundraiser at the Hopkins VFW.
The award was in recognition of Sela's work in securing housing for veterans at risk of homelessness. The work is part of a nationwide push by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to encourage property managers to make exceptions for some hard-to-rent veterans who may have faced barriers in the past with bad credit scores, unlawful detainers, or criminal histories.
"Sela has gone above and beyond the spirit. They've housed some people that, if it wasn't for them, wouldn't be housed," said Tommy Johnson, post services officer for VFW Post 425 and an advocate for homeless veterans.
For their part, veterans must have a plan for moving forward, and also have their own income.
"We tell them, 'They took a chance on you. You need to take care of that,' " Johnson said.
One example is a local Sela apartment complex, where as many as a dozen veterans live in rental units. It's been so successful that it's been dubbed "Fort Robbinwood."
The award comes at a time when some promising numbers are surfacing in regard to reducing veteran homelessness. A recently released HUD report shows that homelessness continues to decline in the U.S., specifically among families with children, veterans, and individuals with long-term disabling conditions.
Overall, people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota on a single night in 2016 fell by 7 percent from 2010, the year the Obama administration launched Opening Doors, the nation's first comprehensive strategy to prevent and end homelessness.
Veteran homelessness in Minnesota has dropped by 56 percent (or 644 people) since January 2010. On a single night in January 2016, 279 veterans were experiencing homelessness, according to the HUD report.
Nationwide, according to HUD, homelessness among veterans declined by 17 percent (8,254 fewer veterans) overall between 2015 and 2016.
While the numbers are slightly different, a separate study by the Minnesota-based Wilder Foundation came to the same conclusion: The number of homeless veterans in Minnesota decreased sharply — by approximately 27 percent from 2012 to 2015.
That report found that the average age of a homeless veteran is 51, a decade older than the average age of the overall homeless adult population. It also found that six out of 10 homeless veterans have been without stable housing for a year or longer, that most homeless veterans have serious health issues, and nearly one-third of homeless veterans are employed.
Ninety percent of homeless veterans were men, while 42 percent were people of color, although they make up only 15 percent of the state's adult population, the report said. Sixty-eight percent of homeless veterans were in the Twin Cities metro area, and 32 percent were in greater Minnesota.
In his advocacy, Johnson said he has worked with about 200 homeless vets and few have failed. The stakes are too high and there is always someone ready to fill a spot, he said.
"This program is about choice — you have a choice to move forward or not," Johnson said. "There's no shortage of veterans in a jam. If you're not willing to move forward, I'll go work with a veteran who will move forward."