Right now, in communities across our nation, there are men and women who wore our country’s uniform who don’t have a place to call home. Some fought in wars as far back as Vietnam or Korea, and some served more recently in Iraq and Afghanistan. These brave Americans risked their lives for us and our freedom – yet, tonight, they won’t even have a roof over their heads.
To be clear, the vast majority of our veterans return home in good health and good spirits. They go on to build strong families and have successful careers. But we can all agree that even a single homeless veteran is one too many, and when we have tens of thousands of veterans who don’t even have somewhere to go when it rains – that’s a stain on our nation.
Everyone who has served America deserves a home in America. And while we know that we'll never be able to prevent every single housing crisis for our veterans, we also know that if we set up the right systems in our communities and devote enough resources, we can get our veterans and their families back into housing quickly – and permanently.
That’s why President Obama vowed not simply to manage this problem but to end it. He has made this issue a government-wide priority, cutting red tape and directing record funding and resources toward housing our veterans. As a result, we’ve made historic progress – since 2010, we’ve housed nearly 230,000 veterans and their family members through housing vouchers from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and homelessness programs at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
In addition, over the past year, 570 mayors, local officials and governors have joined the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness. They’re committing to end veteran homeless in their communities by the end of 2015, and they’re making great progress. Los Angeles housed more than 5,000 veterans last year alone. New York has cut the number of homeless veterans by more than half. Salt Lake City, Phoenix and Houston are close to solving this problem in their communities. And in New Orleans, Louisiana, Mayor Mitch Landrieu has rallied nonprofits, businesses, military and veterans communities, and people all across his city behind this effort – and in January, New Orleans became the first major city in America to end veteran homelessness.
We want cities and communities across this country to follow New Orleans’ lead. That’s why the administration is making tens of millions of dollars of funding available months earlier than usual, so that more veterans can pay their rent and more communities can get veterans into housing. And it’s why, through Joining Forces – a nationwide initiative that we launched four years ago to honor and support our troops, veterans and their families – Blackstone and its portfolio hotels Hilton, La Quinta and Motel 6 are helping create Welcome Home Kits that will include items such as furniture, appliances and other supplies to smooth the transition when our veterans move into their new homes.
Imagine the difference these kits can make: Getting the key to a new apartment is a huge step, but it’s another thing entirely to walk in and see dishes in the cupboard, towels in the bathroom and a bed to sleep on.
This commitment is a perfect example of what Joining Forces is all about – it’s about folks across the country doing what they do best, and doing it on behalf of our extraordinary troops, veterans and their families. And we’re challenging all Americans to follow their lead, so if your mayor hasn’t joined the challenge yet, ask him or her to sign up. And then do your part to help meet this challenge. If you have relevant professional skills – if you’re a social worker, lawyer, accountant, nurse – offer your services pro bono and help local veterans navigate the system and make use of the benefits they’ve earned.
If you own or manage housing units, work with your local VA to find out how you can rent to those who need housing. Or if you’re looking to volunteer, connect with a local nonprofit to walk the streets in your community, and help our vets get back into housing. For more information on how to get involved, go to JoiningForces.gov.
It’s going to take all of us working together to make sure that everyone who has served our country has a place to call home. But we know if we all do our part, then we can serve these men and women as well as they have served us.