Someone at the emergency shelter was calling Larry Houston's name.
He was new there. The last place he'd slept had been the parking lot at the Veterans Affairs center, waiting for the doors to open, waiting to see if the country he had served for 10 years would help him.
"To be homeless, walking the street, not knowing where you'll lay your head, is not a good thing," he said.
Now a woman was walking toward him, smiling, and calling his name. It was Jeanetta Lindo, a Hennepin County social worker who specializes in finding veterans a home.
"Just like that, I became a person instead of just a number," Houston said. Just like that, "things got real good, real quick."
Hennepin County wants every resident to have a residence.
In less than two years, the county's Homeless to Housing program has helped 559 Minnesotans off the streets and into homes of their own.
Home to a new apartment building in south Minneapolis, built to serve low-income residents ages 55 and up — many of them veterans like him. Lindo was on her way to meet him there. But there was someone else she needed to help first.
She had gone out to help an elderly veteran whose failing memory made it hard for him to remember things like paperwork or where he was supposed to meet his caseworker. While she was searching for him, she found another veteran living in a shed with a feral cat and her kittens.
She apologized for running late, but she needed to drop her new client off at a hotel, where he could have clean sheets, a hot shower and a roof over his head while they got started on his paperwork.
"You never know where you'll meet a veteran," she said. "A lot of them think that no one will help them."
Over the years, Lindo has helped veterans over roadblocks ranging from criminal records to less-than-honorable discharges. She helped them all.
"You can tell she loves her job," Houston said, sitting in the lobby of his new apartment building. "She has done a lot for a lot of people."
It takes more than four walls and a roof to get someone off the streets and into stable, permanent housing.
The Homeless to Housing program connects people with a team of social workers who make sure no one has to try to find their way home alone. Don't have a phone? They'll get you a phone. Don't have a driver's license? Your caseworker will wait with you in line at motor vehicle services until you do. Old debts keeping you from applying for an apartment? There are funds available to help, if you know who to ask.
"Give us a call. Give us a chance," Lindo said. "We'll fight the system to make sure you get into housing. But you have to do the work, too."
Lindo is part of a team that works exclusively with unhoused veterans. Other caseworkers focus on homeless youth or immigrants or people with serious mental health or substance abuse issues.
"We believe that everybody is housable and everybody deserves housing. Anyone, everyone," said Danielle Werder, the county's area manager for housing stability. "It is possible. It's happening."
The idea of offering wraparound services started during the pandemic, when the county moved people into empty motels to ease crowding in shelters — and stationed social workers at each site. They learned that roadblocks to housing, like the paperwork labyrinth involved in getting a replacement Social Security card — were a lot easier with a caseworker right there to help.
And as Lindo worked on Houston's case — lining up the veterans benefits he hadn't been receiving, securing housing vouchers — Houston worked, too. He filled out paperwork as fast as Lindo could send it to him.
Safe at home at last, he draws on his military experience as volunteer building security, patrolling the apartment complex at night to keep everyone safe. It feels good, he said, to have a purpose.
"You have to be involved in your blessing," he said, smiling around at his new apartment building. "I like it here. I love it here."
Read more at the Star Tribune.