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Bill aims to speed support to homeless veterans

Services and other aid to homeless veterans or veterans on the verge of homelessness often get delayed because data privacy laws can prevent sharing information with agencies that could help.

HF4224 would authorize the Department of Veterans Affairs to establish a veterans stable housing initiative to support veterans experiencing homelessness. It would also reclassify data on veterans collected by the department and allow it to be shared with the Minnesota Interagency Council on Homelessness and the Homeless Veterans Registry.

Existing restrictions on veterans’ data have resulted in “fragmented and inefficient response to time-sensitive crisis situations for individuals and families experiencing homelessness,” said Rep. Shelly Christensen (DFL-Stillwater), the bill sponsor.

Approved by the House Veterans and Military Affairs Finance and Policy Division Tuesday, the bill was sent to the House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Division. Its companion, SF4180, is sponsored by Sen. Jerry Newton (DFL-Coon Rapids) and awaits action by the Senate Veterans and Military Affairs Finance and Policy Committee.

Andrew Garvais, director of veterans programs and memorial affairs at the Department of Veterans Affairs, said there are currently about 250 homeless veterans in Minnesota who are known to his department. It takes 218 days to house a homeless veteran in Hennepin County, he said, and about 141 days in Ramsey County. Not being able to share data quickly is a major reason for those long time frames.

“Sharing data on our homeless veterans with our partners is a critical component to housing our veterans who face the highest barriers and require more case management to develop their housing plans,” Garvais said.

At this time last year, there were about 300 homeless veterans in the state, said Garvais, noting that his department is having success in reducing veteran homelessness.

“We are making progress, and need the number to be zero sooner rather than later,” said Rep. Rob Ecklund (DFL-International Falls), the division chair.

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