MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Gov. Tim Walz is marking Veterans Day by announcing a new milestone in ending veteran homelessness in the state of Minnesota.

The federal designation for ending veteran homelessness was given to the Suburban Metro Area Continuum of Care (SMAC) and includes five counties: Anoka, Carver, Scott, Dakota, and Washington.

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Since 2014, when SMAC’s initiative began, more than 2,100 previously homeless veterans have been housed. In 2019, more than 500 veterans were housed through the program, a record number. The funding for the initiative comes from federal grants.

The governor described it as not a bandage-type fix, but a permanent solution.

“This is not about placing someone for an evening. This is not about us not believing that more veterans will come into the system and potentially fall upon this. But it’s creating a deep and broad safety net that is there to lift them up,” said Walz.

Since 2014, the Minnesota agency Suburban Metro Area Continuum of Care — with the help of federal vouchers — has housed more than 2,100 homeless Minnesota veterans. In 2019, a record 500 homeless vets got help finding and paying for a home. Among them was veteran Deborah Spencer.

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“My story is I broke my leg about a year ago, went through my savings, went back to work, COVID hit, and I am homeless,” Spencer said.

The agency found her a home in Carver County.

The governor and some officials said there’s still a ways to go. Some of the counties which have not been able to eliminate homelessness for veterans include Ramsey, Hennepin, and St. Louis counties. Currently there are about 308 veterans on the waiting list for homes.

The COVID pandemic, with its enormous job losses, has left more veterans homeless. The goal of this announcement is to let them know there are resources out there where they can get help.

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Anyone who knows a veteran experiencing homelessness can go to 1-888-LinkVet (546-5838) or minnesotaveteran.org.

Esme Murphy