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'Portraits of Home' - Exhibit portrays plight of homeless vets

An open house at the "In Their Own Words" Veterans Museum was hosted August 10. The photo gallery, above, features images captured during the "Portraits of Home" project, which explored the difficulties veterans face in finding homes and shelter.

Stark images of homeless veterans surround visitors as they step into the ITOW Veterans Museum gallery in Perham, Minnesota.

The photo exhibit reflects the findings in a 2006 study, which concluded veterans make up 13 percent of all homeless adults--and 24 percent of all homeless men.

Photographs at the exhibit portray not only the younger veterans--those of the Middle East and Eastern Europe conflicts of the past 20-some years. Also depicted are aging veterans, without permanent homes, of the Vietnam and even Korean era.

"The exhibit is a very good reflection of the problems out there," said Diane Leaders, a family services specialist with the Bi-CAP agency.

In Otter Tail and Wadena Counties, there were 41 homeless people confirmed in January 2009. The breakdown of how many were veterans was not readily available.

"A large percentage of the homeless, including in our counties, are children," said Leaders.

Also visiting the exhibit was Paul Sweere, of the Perham-based Northern Connections, which helps veterans and others get back into the workforce and off of public assistance and welfare.

The caseload at Northern Connections is more than 400, said Sweere. It has climbed since the recession took hold. Northern Connections serves 12 counties, with three counselors and a director, who have their main offices in Perham.

Transitional and temporary housing is in short supply in the Otter Tail area--like most rural areas. There are only a few options available, including two small transitional housing facilities in Fergus Falls.

The documentary photography exhibit "Portraits of Home II: Veterans in Search of Shelter in Greater Minnesota" continues through August at the ITOW Veterans Museum.

The exhibit of over 50 photos, produced by the Greater Minnesota Housing Fund, in cooperation with the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans (MACV) and Heading Home Minnesota, features the work of six distinguished photojournalists who have captured the deeply personal impacts of greater Minnesota's affordable housing crisis.

The show reveals the challenges faced by Minnesotans as they manage life and work with less than decent housing conditions. "By putting a face on these conditions we hope to bring these stories to light," said Warren Hanson, president of Greater Minnesota Housing Fund. "Most of the time these conditions go unseen, the stories are unheard, and so the needs of the homeless are unaddressed by public policy."

Photos are accompanied by brief narrative text that describes the compelling stories behind the photos.

Portraits of Home II is on display at the ITOW Veterans Museum, 805 West Main, in Perham. For additional information visit or call 218-346-7678.

Veterans are homeless in greater numbers

Printed here are a few statistics from a 2006 study conducted statewide. With the economic downturn of the past year, these statistics are no doubt higher.

•Veterans make up 13 percent of all homeless adults--and 24 percent of all homeless men.

•Nearly one-third of homeless veterans reported having served in a combat zone.

•19 percent of homeless veterans reported they had served in combat in Vietnam; 6 percent in the First Gulf War; 3 percent in Iraq or Afghanistan; and less than 1 percent each in Korea, El Salvador, Granada, Panama, Libya, Serbia-Bosnia, Lebanon and Iran.

•The average age of homeless male veterans was 47.5 years old; the average age of homeless female veterans was 39.3.

•The percentage of homeless veterans who had completed high school was higher than the general homeless population: 92 percent for veterans, and 72 percent for the general homeless population.

•70 percent of homeless veterans had been homeless more than once.

•Nearly one-third of homeless veterans also reported having both a mental illness and a chemical dependency problem.