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Hack for MN 2014 Heading Home Projects


We’d like to thank The Nerdery for recording all of the project presentations.

Blue Star Landlords

Landlords are a major stakeholder in any housing discussion. Knowing this, the team thought about how landlords can be a unique asset in an effort to end homelessness - how landlords can be a stable and local in-person source of information for veterans seeking housing. At the sametime, the team wondered how an initiative might instil hope and a sense of control to homeless veterans.

Blue Star Landlords addresses both of these “how might we?” questions through a combination of supportive resources for both landlords and veterans, and a communications plan that raises awareness of their initiative while highlighting a community of allies for homeless veterans.

The Blue Star Landlords program would provide training to veterans and participating landlords on such issues as the rights and responsibilities of tenants, the availabity of rent subsidies for veterans, and the availability of guaranteed rent for veteran tenants. The program would also provide supportive information materials, including contracting templates, interview questions for landlords to understand the needs of their veteran tenants, and veteran-centric maps offering locations of nearby county service officers, transit, food and housing shelters, work force centers, and landlords participating in the program. Finally, the program would also provide support services to landlords and tenants, including the already mentioned rent subsidies and guarantees, case management support, and complaint mediation.

This is a comprehensive set of resources, but the Blue Star team understood that it would mean little if nobody knew of their availability. To that end, the team created a communications plan that includes direct mailings to landlords, participation in landlord conferences and events, and participation in Stand Down events for new veterans. At the core of this plan is the namesake Blue Star, a logo for landlords to display to show their participation in the program, and a signal to veterans of where to look for supportive landlords and helpful information.

Habitat for Vets

Veterans share a sense of duty and a desire to do things. This is as true for a homeless veteran as it is for a veteran who rents or owns a home. The Habitat for Vets team took this insight and mixed it with two others: the Twin Cities is facing a general shortage in its housing stock, and the Twin Cities contain many beautiful but currently uninhabital houses. Considering these together, the team developed an initiative that would allow volunteers, including veterans, to work together to rehabilitate a house that veterans can live in.

Logistically, rehab teams would be made up of 15 volunteers that work with general contractors and licensed electricians and plumbers. The Habitat for Vets program would purchases low cost houses, such as houses owned by a city as a result of unpaid taxes. Depending on the circumstances of the veteran who will live in the rehibilitated house, the house will be given to the veteran, opperated as a group home for veterans, or turned over to a manager to rent out to veterans.

All houses rehabilitated through this program would be lived in by veterans, though it would not require that veterans who eventually live in a house be part of its rehabilitation. The goal of this program is not to mandate actions. Habitat for Vets would instead expand the options availabile to veterans - especially dishonorably discharged veterans who do not qualify for many veteran aid programs - and allow veterans the option to take part in the rehabilitation of their own homes.

Veterans Serving Veterans

Homelessness isn’t simply an issue of economics. Even more than money, homeless individuals often need guidance on how to navigate processes, make plans, find stablility, and cope with emotional hardships. This is all the more true when veterans return to civilian life, having experienced the trauma of combat, and finding a society that can be crushingly indifferent.

Considering this need for connection and guidance, the Veterans Serving Veterans team looked at veteran mentorship options and prototyped an initiative and website that could connect homeless veterans with veteran mentors.

To get started, the Veterans Serving Veterans team would partner with an organization like the St. Stephens Homeless Shelter to pilot a veteran mentorship program. Such a program would prefer that mentors be former military personnel - so that mentors can better understand the experiences of their mentees and connect with their mentees.

Over the weekend, Veterans Serving Veterans made significant strides in technical development. Specifically, the team designed a website to support the mentorship program by helping veterans find mentors, helping mentors and mentees communicate, and providing resources and structure to mentors to help them connect and advise their mentee. The team has also begun to answer technical questions, such as what platform should be used (Django), and what other services should be integrated with the webste (a text message interface via Twilio).