James McCloden is a case manager for MACV, procuring services for veterans to help them find stable housing and work. Photo by Shaun Riffe
For the last thirty years, the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans (MACV) has been tirelessly working to help local military veterans find stable housing and employment, working directly with vets who are either homeless or at risk of becoming homeless to assess their needs and help them via a structured assistance program.
As COVID-19 continues to affect all walks of life, MACV’s mission has become more difficult to execute, but as MACV case managers Dash Tuthill-Preus and James McCloden will let you know, the nonprofit is still there and ready to serve.
“We realized pretty early on that the health and safety of our clients and staff far outweighs any benefits that we could get from remaining at our office,” said Tuthill-Preus. “Our transition into a remote work environment went smoothly, partially because we already have staff in far-flung areas of the state, so we had experience connecting staff and clients by phone and internet in the past. Because we worked quickly to make changes to our work environment, we didn’t experience the same service outages that some human service organizations had to deal with.”
McCloden said that MACV has been evolving in its means of remotely connecting with vets to assist them, even before the pandemic hit.
“I believe about two years ago, the company started working on upgrading our technology,” said McCloden. “So we used things like Salesforce, Microsoft Teams, which allows us to video conference safely.”
“The way the old model was, as you come in the office, you sit down,” McCloden continued. “We go over the different programs we can assist you with. Whereas now, we’ve got to adjust that and still figure out how we can deliver this as efficiently as possible without the time lag.”
Tuthill-Preus said that they find a lot of value in face-to-face interaction with both clients and MACV colleagues.
“Being isolated from my clients and team has been the biggest adjustment by far, and this new normal has definitely had an impact on the mental health of myself and some of my colleagues,” Tuthill-Preus said. “But maintaining interaction with clients by phone and staying up to date with my colleagues using video chat and e-mail has been able to fill in some of those gaps. Being proactive and remembering to stand up, take a break, and go for a walk outside has been essential to staying mentally refreshed.”
Nonetheless, pandemic or not, MACV still aims to make changes and adjustments to better serve the veteran community.
“In the past year, we have also restructured our metro area team structure to focus on better serving Veterans based on their geography,” said Tuthill-Preus. “Additionally, we have created several new positions within MACV, including a new leadership role specific to the metro area.”
McCloden said that through thick and thin, whenever there’s a homeless vet in need, MACV is there to help them and keep the rate of veteran homelessness down.
“We get a briefing every week and make sure that [with] every single veteran that has been designated homeless, that we are either in contact with them or we have them in housing,” said McCloden. “So it’s the same mission. We just don’t let something like a pandemic slow you down to stop it.”
Tuthill-Preus would corroborate that sentiment, noting that the digital tools available to MACV, such as an already-established centralized database, have allowed for their work to continue unabated, albeit virtually.
“By adding a few more tools to help cover gaps we hadn’t encountered before (such as signing documents remotely), our case managers have been able to continue working with their clients without interruption,” they said. “We have digitized other office functions, like new hire interviewing and onboarding. We’ve even moved to an online happy hour.”
Even though MACV’s been operating remotely, the mission is still there: to help our veterans secure housing, employment, and legal services.
“You have to have stable housing in order to work on anything else,” said McCloden. “You need employment income, benefit income, or some sort of income. So you’ve got to help the veteran find a way to make sure that they’re able to maintain those things. And then they can go on and look at legal issues: some have housing barriers, such as perhaps evictions, felonies, or things like that. So each one is a little different and you’ve got to determine how you can help them.”
MACV’s offices in St. Paul, Duluth and Mankato are currently open for limited client services for veterans unable to use online services, though this is subject to change based on evolving public health circumstances. Tuthill-Preus said that if readers want to assist MACV in their mission to help our veterans, first things first.
“Above all, start by keeping yourself safe,” they said. “Slowing the spread of COVID-19 with social distancing and attentive hygiene makes our communities safer for everyone. This is especially important if you want to protect the clients that we serve: veterans who may not have a place to safely quarantine themselves or the resources to afford cleaning supplies and face masks.”
Donations can be made to MACV via www.mac-v.org/donate or over the phone at 1-833-222-6228.
“Direct financial support remains the most impactful way to support our mission, especially when many of our clients are unable to work,” said Tuthill-Preus.