Homes for heroes: Local group helping prevent homelessness for those who give back

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A local organization is celebrating a some major milestones.

Homes for Heroes helped their first hero, Steven Blackwell — a veteran and former law enforcement officer — in 2009 when he purchased his home. Since then, Homes for Heroes has helped more than 50,000 heroes and is closing in on more than $100 million shared.

“I’m proud to say that me and my wife were the first ones to use the [Homes for Heroes] program,” Blackwell said. “It’s just unbelievable to see what’s going on with it [now],” he added.

Through a now-nationwide network of real estate and mortgage specialists, Homes for Heroes provide veterans, active military members (including reserves), law enforcement agents, healthcare professionals and teachers money back when they buy, sell, or refinance a home. Those specialists can also help with heroes who are struggling in their current home.

“Health care workers, veterans, teachers, these are the ones who shape [our community],” Blackwell said. “We want to make sure these people have a home in our community and become a part of our community.”

While the milestones are cause for celebration, Homes for Heroes’ work is far from over.

“Behind each one of those numbers, the 50,000 heroes served [and] the $100 million given back, is a really powerful story of a hero,” Seth Jeska, with Homes for Heroes, said. “We’re proud of it and it’s a huge accomplishment, but we also know that we have a lot of work to do."

Another milestone the organization is celebrating is the Homes for Heroes Foundation, which recently surpassed awarding more than $1,000,000 in grants.

That grant money is put toward helping heroes with immediate financial help, or others who may be facing a housing crisis.

A crisis like homelessness — something the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs is working to rid statewide for our veterans.

According to the MDVA, more than 260 veterans are considered homeless in the state.

“Your heart aches for these veterans who have served their country,” Paul Williams, a veteran and homeless programs supervisor with the MDVA, said.

“It makes you want to do better,” Williams added.

The MDVA also celebrated recently. Williams said last month 13 more counties in Minnesota have “effectively ended Veteran homelessness.”

Now, 84 out of 87 counties have that designation; Hennepin, Ramsey, and St. Louis counties are still working towards that designation.

“When we say we have ‘effectively ended veteran homelessness’ in a certain area, it does not mean that another veteran will never experience homelessness or a housing crisis in that area again,” Williams explained. “Instead, it means that the community has a homeless response system that prevents a Veteran from becoming homeless whenever possible, and any homeless experience is rare, brief and one time,” he added.

The MDVA’s goal is to be the fourth state in the nation to effectively end Veteran homelessness statewide.

“Where we see the biggest challenge ahead, is really finding safe and actually affordable housing for these veterans,” Williams said.

Williams said landlords can play a role in their effort. The MDVA can offer support, financial incentive and risk prevention if a landlord rents to a veteran.

Its SOAR (Social Security Income and Social Security Disability Insurance, Outreach, Access, and Recovery) program provides Minnesota’s homeless and at-risk Veterans with expanded access to Social Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits.

If you’re a Veteran, or you know one who could use some help, visit the MDVA here.

If you’re a hero or know one who could benefit from Homes for Heroes, visit here.