2016 MCH Annual Awards


2016 MCH Annual Award Winners


Monica Nilsson (Left) and Shery Block (Right)

Bruce Vento Distinguished Service Award

Each year, the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless recognizes two individuals through the Bruce Vento Distinguished Service Award and Steve O’Neil Outstanding Organizer Award.

Congressman Bruce Vento served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1977-2000 and well known for his work advocating for people experiencing homelessness. Congressman Vento was the original author of what was to become the McKinney-Vento Act, the first significant federal legislative response to homelessness.

The original act included programs like the Continuum of Care, Supportive Housing, Shelter Plus Care, and the Emergency Shelter Grant Program.

Congressman Vento was committed to working on behalf of people experiencing homelessness until he passed away in 2000. In honor of Congressman Vento, please help us recognize the efforts of an outstanding individual who provides services and housing to people in need.

We are thrilled to recognize the distinguished service of  Shery Block, Homeless Services Supervisor at Zumbro Valley Mental Health Center.

In the words of her colleagues:

I am nominating Shery to receive the Bruce Vento Award for the work she has been doing with people experiencing homelessness in Southeast Minnesota. Shery has worked as a service provider since the 90s in the Rochester Metro Area. Before becoming part of the Southern Regional Project to End Long Term Homelessness, she was active in the homeless service community, working for what was then known as Zumbro Valley Mental Health Center.

In the late 90s, she participated in conversations that led to the creation of the Managed Care Pilot, now known as Hearth Connection, and the Long Term Homeless Supportive Service Fund.

Shery has been a good fit for the Southern Project because she naturally has a “person centered” approach when working with people. She openly advocates, taking in the hardest to serve households who have multiple barriers to housing.

Talking with program participants through focus groups and program events, they describe her as a “Godsend.”

She is easy to talk to and always appears to be on their side, helping them to navigate the system. She advocates not only for her programs’ participants, but for everyone experiencing homelessness in her community. She strongly promotes housing first values and is not afraid to challenge county or other providers on behalf of participants.

Her leadership and values have set the culture for her entire team who reflect her commitment to working with participants to achieve stable housing. She has a unique role as the Homeless Services Supervisor because she not only manages the programing but keeps a case load, too.

Shery has been an extremely valuable partner, helping to bring in unique funding resources and advocating for new ways to pay for programming in Greater Minnesota.

Shery is never afraid to try something new or do things differently to bring more service and housing resources into her community. Because of Shery’s success, we are now looking at replicating the Homeless Service Teams model in other areas of the state.

Shery deserves the Bruce Vento Award because she has created a community within her umbrella of services for people experiencing homelessness in Rochester. Her work has contributed to the belief that stable housing is healthcare, and this has opened the doors to many other programs in the state to be able to build upon the work she has done in her community.

Steve O’Neil Outstanding Organizer Award

Each year, the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless recognizes an individual through the Steve O’Neil Outstanding Organizer Award.

Steve O’Neil was a St. Louis County Commissioner and tireless organizer for housing and homeless services. I know many of you knew Steve and his work. Steve O’Neil passed away in July 2013 and is greatly missed.

In honor of Steve O’Neil, please help us recognize the efforts of an outstanding individual that exemplifies Steve’s passion and drive for organizing social change.

Monica Nilsson has been working to end homelessness, person-by-person and system-by-system, since pulling her first overnight shelter shift as a volunteer in 1993.

Whether connecting with women and men sleeping outside or with elected officials at all levels of government, Monica brings her full and authentic self into every space. A plain spoken truth teller on a mission to end homelessness, Monica connects the worlds of direct service and social change in rare and powerful ways.

Monica is highly strategic in her organizing work, building key relationships with unlikely allies to bring tangible results.

From corporate CEOs and business owners, to HMO executives and police departments, Monica educates and organizes in unlikely spaces, leveraging new capacity across boundaries to advance the work.

As a key leader in the Save GAMC  (General Assistance Medical Care) coalition in 2009, Monica and the homeless Veterans she organized, to meet with lawmakers and the media, fundamentally changed the statewide narrative around the health and dignity of the 70,000 men and women who faced losing their health coverage. No advocate had a bigger impact on this policy win than Monica Nilsson.

As one of her nominators stated:

“Monica is not afraid to tell the truth, to point out injustice where it occurs, and to advocate for real solutions. And she’ll take that message to the streets, to communities and to the highest levels of government, always educating people about homelessness and how best to respond.”

Like Steve O’Neil, Monica is an agent for social change. She has dedicated her life to the cause of realizing a Minnesota where everyone has the dignity of a home. While we are not where we need to be, we are closer to it because Monica has been on the scene.