By Reg Chapman

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) We at WCCO are once again teaming up with the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans (MACV) to help veterans find a Home for the Holidays.

There are a growing number of veterans who call rural Minnesota home.

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These veterans have a unique set of circumstances, when it comes to getting the resources they need to get back on their feet. Distance, and lack of shelters, keep many rural veterans from accessing life-saving resources.

WCCO recently traveled to Hibbing, where MACV partnered with the community to provide housing for veterans.

The Iron Range is home to many of our state’s citizen soldiers. It was after one of the Minnesota National Guard’s longest deployments in 2005 that this part of rural Minnesota saw its military heroes return, needing help to adjust to life back on the Iron Range.

Tim Callender was a cavalry scout in the National Guard.

“I do see a lot of young veterans walking around here,” Callender said.

He says veterans from rural Minnesota have a reputation for being tough and able to take care of themselves.

“They have a thing for making it look like things aren’t bad for them, making it look like things are OK when they’re really not,” Callender said.

Tim Callender (credit: CBS)

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Locals also noticed an uptick in the number of veterans resorting to living outside, instead of asking for assistance.

MACV’s program and outreach manager Paul Pedersen says community partners like the United Way worked with the community to help rural veterans.

“People from northern Minnesota, they’re survivalists, especially our veterans. So they will stay where ever they can,” Pederson said. “People are staying in campers that are inadequately heated for weather like this, and they’ll tough it out, and they’re trying to make it work. They’ll still tent out. There’s still people who are camping that aren’t ready to deal with society again.”

Erin Shay is the community impact and engagement director at the United Way of Northeastern Minnesota. She put together a committee of community members including veterans, and the initiative United for Veterans was born.

“We have some veterans that are living, you know, over an hour from the closest grocery store, so we found that it would be best if we could look at how we could make a difference,” Shay said. “We were receiving referrals, you know, putting veterans up in hotels in the interim while MACV was working with them. And so through the conversation with MACV, we just started talking about what if we had a house up here that we could put veterans in, and we didn’t have to transfer them to Duluth or the Twin Cities area, and we could keep them here where they wanted to stay, and you could case manage them in that home.”

It took six months to find a four-bedroom, three-bathroom home in Hibbing. The United Way used money for its Rampage the Ridge, an extreme 5K obstacle mud run, along with private donations to fund the project.

“They brought me into the house in the Hibbing, Minnesota area, and gave me a nice warm bed to sleep in,” Callender said. “They helped me with clothes and gave me food.”

Callender says he was one of the lucky ones. The months he spent in MACV transitional housing prepared him for the place he now permanently calls home.

“It really touched me really close that there were that many people willing to help, that many people that were caring and willing to help me get back on my feet and back down the road,” Callender said.

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Click here to donate to MACV, or call 800-542-9226.

Reg Chapman