Members of the Economic Commission stand in front of a house owned by the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans, during a tour in Minneapolis, Monday, Aug. 29, 2011. The MACV provides single, male homeless veterans with housing and support. Photo by Tom Strattman

Collaborating to end veteran homelessness

The concerted effort among advocacy agencies and institutions supporting homeless and at-risk military veterans has impressed American Legion members highly this week. The latest round of compliments came from members of the Legion's Economic Commission and its deputy director, Mark Walker, who were inspired by a visit to two facilities for homeless vets.

Kathleen "Kathy" Vitalis, president and CEO of the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans (MACV), led the tour that involved nearly 24 Legionnaires, including several participants from the Legion's recent homeless veterans roundtable. The group toured a Structured Independent Living house in Minneapolis four veterans who, as the MACV website states, "show a desire to live a sober life after drug and alcohol treatment." In all, MACV owns 10 such residences statewide.

The group also visited a 13-bed residential facility run by MACV for single male veterans, known as Building 47 and located on the campus of the VA Medical Center campus in Minneapolis.

Walker reflected on the visits saying, "You see a rare collaboration here; it's sort of a Minnesota thing. These folks, particularly MACV, have reached out and are doing some really good things for homeless veterans. I haven't seen this sort of relationship in many of the places that I have gone.

"It's been a unique experience for us to really see the things that we talk about - the collaboration between federal agencies, faith-based organizations, community service providers, and city, state and local governments that actually work together.

"I met a homeless veteran today who is now looking for his own apartment and making that transition from getting the case management services he needed in a structured environment and getting the time he needed to heal and now integrate into the community. These are the sort of success stories The American Legion is looking for."

Walker also noted that The American Legion Department of Minnesota works closely with advocates such as MACV. "Randy Tesdahl, the department adjutant, is personal friends with Kathy (Vitalis), and they talk a lot about what the Legion can do here to help veterans in any way they can," Walker said.

He too says that the major "takeaway" from his Minnesota colleagues to his home base in Washington will be that "what should be done can be done. The specific programs that work here in Minnesota won't all necessarily work exactly the same way in California, but the spirit of cooperation and collaboration demonstrated so amply here can be universal. We need to encourage that and help facilitate that everywhere.

"And as for Kathy (Vitalis)," concluded Walker, "she's an angel."