Currently, 280 military veterans in Minnesota are waiting for a place to call home. As someone who works for the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans (MACV), ending veteran homelessness has become a focus area, as has providing better care to female soldiers who have experienced sexual assault. In general, organizations are rethinking how government, military-focused service providers, and the public can serve veterans.
Years of coordinated work between nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and community partners put Minnesota in a position to declare a statewide end to veteran homelessness at the start of 2020. However, the pandemic has created a nearly 20 percent jump in veteran homelessness throughout Minnesota. A growing number of these veterans are women.
“We see the same barriers over and over,” says MACV case manager Kimberly Dotstry. “What sets this period apart is the challenge posed by accessing resources and safe shelter while complying with public health and safety protocol.”
I am a development associate for MACV, which means my role is to fundraise and otherwise serve the basic needs of Minnesota veterans for healthy and safe lives after they return home. Two of my uncles served in the Vietnam War and had opposite experiences. As I became more aware of their stories and post-war lives, I found myself fascinated by military culture and the varied veteran experience.
I think it is important to consider taking advantage of opportunities this holiday season to volunteer and donate on behalf of veterans.
Attitudes in the armed forces, which emphasize self- reliance and a soldier’s “toughness,” are beneficial in the line of duty, but can undermine the willingness of veterans to seek help before they become homeless.
Female veterans often face additional barriers in civilian life, such as such as having primary responsibility for children, lower incomes than men, and trauma experienced from the line of duty. MACV recently obtained a residence designated for female veterans, which currently houses three women who left abusive homes. Women often become unhoused when escaping domestic violence, and veterans are no exception to this reality. Women who depend on their partner for financial stability are particularly disadvantaged when fleeing an abusive relationship. Says Dotstry, “When a woman is fleeing domestic violence, she is automatically homeless in that moment.”
The Defense Department’s recent report on sexual assault in the military showed a 38 percent increase in sexual assaults against women service members since 2016. About a third of female veterans experience intimate partner violence, according to the
Department of Veterans Affairs. During times of crisis like the pandemic, domestic violence increases as couples face unprecedented stress and instability.
Shame and reluctance to discuss experiences with colleagues or support staff in a male-dominated career field often delay veterans’ seeking out help. “Depending on their culture, women may not want to seek out help,” notes Dotstry.
Kate Brune (she/her) has worked in nonprofit services since 2008.
Consider donating holiday time or resources to:
Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans — creates move-in kits for veterans.
Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs — offers programs for women and veterans in crisis.
St. Stephen’s Human Services — provides emergency shelter and supported housing.
Ruby’s Pantry — offers pop-up events.
Union Gospel Mission — offers free meals.
United Way 211 — local holiday service opportunities.