By Tommy Johnson
In the January edition of The Minnesota Legionnaire, the story was told about Minneapolis Public Housing Authority’s decision to make the 2-year-old child of a two-tour Iraqi combat veteran and his fiancé homeless. The headline was “Minneapolis housing authority opts to make fiancé and child of a veteran homeless.”
That story got the ball rolling to get this veteran family a new home as individuals reacting to the Legionnaire story and the subsequent story in the Star Tribune, titled “The cold math of Minneapolis’ housing shortage puts a veteran’s toddler out on the streets.”
It caused individuals to donate. Bloomington American Legion Post 550 donated $2,000 from its charitable gaming account. The Hopkins VFW Post 425 stepped up with over $1,000 for apartment application fees, renter’s insurance and moving and other costs. Palmer Lake VFW Post 3915 and Osseo American Legion Post 172 each stepped up with $1,200 to lower this family’s rent from an unaffordable $950 to a barely affordable $750 per month rent.
MACV provided $950 for first month’s rent. The Minnesota Elks Veterans Program provided necessary move-in supplies, from soap and cleaning supplies to needed household goods. Lutheran Social Services is providing financial counseling and budgeting assistance to make sure her limited income stretches as far as it can.
On Feb. 20, I, representing the VFW, and Tim Engstrom, representing The American Legion, met with MPHA Interim Executive Director Tracey Scott and Kyle Hanson, the managing director of the Housing Choice Voucher program, with two simple asks:
1. MPHA reconsider its decision to deny a Housing Choice Voucher to the 2-year-old child of a two-tour Iraqi combat veteran and his mother, the veteran’s fiancé.
2. MPHA discuss changes to MPHA policy to ensure this would never happen again.
MPHA was adamant: Despite the evidence of over one year’s correspondence of MPHA discussing this veteran and his fiancé with the VFW, including correspondence involving HUD and Sen. Tina Smith’s Office, MPHA has now taken the position that regulations prohibit MPHA discussing a veteran and his family that the agency had been discussing for over one year. I guess if I was trying to defend the indefensible, I’d pivot to: “Oh no, now we can’t talk about that!” too.
Instead of talking about the case, Engstrom spoke in terms of the policy issue — putting children of veterans who lose their HUD-VASH voucher by any means (such as death, abandonment, incarceration, etc.) on the street — and he was surprised the nine-member MPHA Board of Commissioners or the staff had not discussed how to handle that situation.
After all, a parent of this child was willing to die for this country, for this state and for this city. Can’t we return the favor?
Scott and Hanson promised him the organization would have that discussion, look through its policies and get back to Engstrom.
We will continue fighting for this combat veteran’s fiancé and his child and continue fighting to ensure MPHA never kicks the kid of a veteran to the curb again. If you’d like to help out, please call me at 612-424-0482 and leave a message or email TwoPuttTommy@gmail.com.
Tommy Johnson is a member of Bloomington American Legion Post 550, Hopkins VFW Post 425 and the legislative officer for the VFW Department of Minnesota.