Veteran steps into community-built Shoreview home


Marine veteran Daniel Hanson with County Commissioner Blake Huffman at a house warming party June 30 at Hanson’s new Shoreview home.

Daniel Hanson, Blake Huffman and others at the June 30 house warming.

Journey Home organizes dozens of business and organizations to help soldiers

There’s a new home in Shoreview; it looks and functions just like any other house, but it also stands out, especially when you know what went into building it.

Ever since Journey Home Minnesota began just shy of a decade ago, the local nonprofit’s mission has been to help create or restore stability and security for individuals through providing safe and affordable housing, to both veterans and women coming out of domestic violence situations. 

Blake Huffman, a Ramsey County commissioner, founded Journey Home Minnesota in 2008 and serves as it executive director.

 

‘Good way to give back’

Originally called Shoreview Area Housing Initiative, Journey Home has grown over the years and provided homes for dozens of people. The charity has two divisions — Veterans Journey Home and Safe Journey Home — and relies on donations to fund its projects.

“I think we’ve figured out a good way to give back to the community,” Huffman said. “Everything we do in Ramsey County is 100 percent privately funded. We could get public funding, but we choose not to,” he added.

According to Huffman, that decision is, in part, because he feels that it’s important for the community to get involved and invest in itself. 

 

House as classroom

The newly built four-bedroom house in the 200 block of Owasso Boulevard in Shoreview, for example, is literally a community undertaking, Huffman said. 

“What makes this nonprofit work is that the community gets involved, and actually, as exemplified in this new Shoreview house, the community builds the house,” Huffman explained.

He said carpentry students from St. Paul College spent spring semester working on the house. “They showed up to the house, and that was their classroom,” Huffman said. “They learned how to build a house by building this house.” 

 

Community involvement

This was the first time St. Paul College and Veterans Journey Home teamed up in this way, but according to Huffman, it won’t be the last.

As for the trade work — electrical, plumbing, painting, etc. — that was all accomplished by skilled locals as well, Huffman noted.

“They all volunteered a ton of time,” he said. “And this is really expensive work they offered us.” 

As for the materials, various construction companies offered up donations. Dozens of local companies pitched in somewhere along the line, Huffman explained.

According to Veterans Journey Home, its projects are completed using one-third fundraising, one-third contributions or donations of supplies and time, and one-third of the cost is covered by a bank loan.  

 

A house for a family

So who gets to live in the new house?

“Someone who’s earned it through his service and sacrifice,” Huffman said. “This is just a small way we can give back.”  

Daniel Hanson, 33, a former sergeant in the Marine Corps, is moving into the house with his four children, ages 10, 7, 3 and 18 months. 

Hanson, originally of South St. Paul, joined the Marines when he was 20, following in the footsteps of his two brothers. 

He was deployed to Ramadi, Iraq, in 2004, where he said he experienced the tragedies of war: 34 Marines were killed, while several hundred were injured, putting them in a vulnerable position, so much so that they had to call in reserves “because the unit was so depleted,” Hanson said.

“I was one of three brothers in the Marine Corps, and I have one brother in the Navy, so four out of five of us have been in the military,” Hanson said.

Losing so many fellow soldiers, some of whom had become good friends, in combat was a debilitating experience, he explained.  

 

A journey of recovery

Then, tragedy struck again. “Shortly after I got out of the Marines in 2007, my younger brother, who was also a Marine, took his life,” Hanson said, explaining that his brother had been struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder. 

“To lose my brother in that way, it derailed me and sent me down a dark road for quite a while.”

Hanson has been working with veterans over the last several years. Just like those he works with, he said he struggled with reintegration to civilian life. 

“I started drinking heavily, doing drugs, getting into bar fights, anything to mask the pain,” he explained. “I was working and going to school, but I was just a trainwreck.”

He was in and out of jail for a period of time, but finally found himself behind bars for what he told himself would be the last time. 

“I somehow decided it was over,” he said. “I checked into rehab from 2009 to 2010 and that’s where my life sort of turned around.” 

 

A turnaround

Hanson, who once tried to take his own life, now works with veterans, struggling or otherwise, as an outreach coordinator for the Wounded Warrior Project. 

Over the past 18 months he has had a single bedroom in his mother’s house, and his kids have had little space to themselves. They’re all looking forward to life in Shoreview, and the spaciousness of the new house. 

“Getting this house is a very humbling experience,” said Hanson, who has spoken at hearings held by the U.S. Senate and House about his experiences in the Marines and his own struggles with PTSD. “Without a stable home, it’s hard for things to go right in other areas in your life.”

 

Looking toward
the future

Veterans Journey Home has plans set for its next project: a suite of three townhouses in Vadnais Heights. 

The estimated $2 million Vadnais Heights project, which has yet to go through final city approvals, will provide six individuals and their families a place to call home.

“These veterans have given us safety and security, and that was a sacrifice for them, and many of them continue to sacrifice through significant physical injuries or mental illnesses,” Huffman said. “And it just takes a little bit of sacrifice on our part to provide them with the safety and security of a home.”

 

Jesse Poole can be reached at jpoole@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7815. Follow him at @JPooleNews.

 

 

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