Meet the 2014 Bruce Vento & Steve O’Neil Award Recipients

Justin Vorbach

2014 Bruce Vento Distinguished Service Award Recipient

Justin Vorbach

In 1995, Justin started out in Houston, Texas as a Live-In Worker, providing food, shelter, clothing, transportation, and education to Latin American immigrants.  In 2001, Justin began supervising the Street Outreach Program at Friends of Shattuck Shelter, leading a team providing basic needs services, detoxification, and medical referrals to Boston’s street homeless.  From there he worked at Pine Street Inn and supervised their Overnight Outreach Program, which was a van-based team also working with Boston’s unsheltered homeless.  In 2005, Justin became a Community Programs Manager at Shattuck Shelter, overseeing several programs including their Street Outreach Program. 

Justin finally found his way to us in Minnesota! In 2008 he began working with Spectrum Community Mental Health as the Collaboration of Housing Resources Team Leader, leading a team helping chronically homeless individuals find and maintain housing, health care, employment, etc.

In 2009 Justin moved to Marshall and he began working for the Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership, beginning his current position as their Supportive Housing Specialist and Coordinator of the Southwest Continuum of Care Committee.  He has successfully secured funding and provided support to the efforts of all homeless services providers in the region. He has overseen the progress made by our region in our plans to end homelessness.  In 2009 Justin played a key role in the development and opening of The Refuge- a homeless shelter program in Marshall, and served as the Chairperson of their Board of Directors for several years.  This program continues to be the only homeless shelter in the entire 18-county Continuum of Care region.

Justin is seen as a leader in homelessness services, not only in southwest Minnesota, but also statewide. His leadership, longstanding dedication, excellence in services, and advocacy for not only people experiencing homeless but also homeless service providers makes him very deserving of this recognition.

Bruce Vento Distinguished Service Award

Congressman Bruce Vento served in the Minnesota House of Representatives from 1971-1976 and in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1977-2000. He was 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. The Bruce Vento Distinguished Service Award recognizes an outstanding individual who provides services and housing to people in need

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Matt Traynor

Matt Traynor

2014 Steve O’Neil Outstanding Organizer Award Recipient

 Matt Traynor has been CHUM’s community organizer since 2012. In that short time he has had a tremendous impact  across the most important issues facing Minnesota’s low-income and homeless population. 

One of his greatest skills is organizing story tellers and empowering them to advocate for their own priorities in their own words. His recordings, both audio and video, help spread those grassroots perspectives to the halls of power at the City, County and State level. CHUM story tellers helped shape MnSure to include community navigators. They helped secure last year’s minimum wage increase and affordable housing bonding bill in the State Legislature. Locally, story-tellers with multiple challenges when it comes to housing have come together to advocate for micro-houses and container houses. 

When the Seaway Hotel, Duluth’s sole remaining single-room occupancy hotel, was condemned for habitation after the flood of 2012, Matt  mobilized tenants and the broader community successfully to “save the Seaway.” The Seaway, for the first time in decades, has professional ownership (Duluth HRA) and management (Center City Housing). Matt helped secure over a million dollars from the Greater Minnesota Housing Fund for repairs and upgrades and is now coordinating services for Seaway tenants and helping them organize their Tenant’s Association.  

Matt represents CHUM in the Fair Food Access Campaign in Lincoln Park, a neighborhood that is designated a food desert. Through this project, Matt has helped Lincoln Park residents create a community garden, start a farmer’s market and attract a new retail outlet for fresh fruits and vegetables. He serves on the Leadership Council of the St. Louis County Ten-year Plan to End Homelessness and strives to bring people who are experiencing homelessness to every meeting. Above all, he shares Steve O’Neil’s passion, humor, exceptional ability to relate to people and relentlessness in the face of injustice. 

Steve O’Neil Outstanding Organizer Award

Steve O’Neil was a St. Louis County Commissioner and tireless organizer for housing and homeless services.  A Chicago native who earned a master’s degree at the University of Minnesota Duluth in the 1970s, O’Neil and his wife, Angie Miller, made advocacy a part of their daily lives. They took homeless people into their home regularly and in addition to their two children, O’Neil and Miller helped raise 25 foster children. When it came to organizing, former colleague Jim Soderberg noted, “Steve realized that if you want to create community, to move forward, you don’t demonize people. They are not the enemy because they disagree with you. You work with them.” Steve reached out his hand to likely and unlikely allies to move good policy forward.  He had the ability to bring in powerful partners in all his community organizing work.  Steve passed away in July 2013 and is greatly missed. The Steve O’Neil Outstanding Organizer Award recognizes an outstanding individual who exemplifies Steve’s passion and drive for social and policy change.