“When a veteran comes home kissing the ground, it is unacceptable that he has to sleep on it.”
That was the emotional decree from First Lady Michelle Obama at a White House ceremony Wednesday as she ramps up efforts to eliminate veteran homelessness by the end of 2015 — a deadline that was set by President Barack Obama’s administration four years ago, NBC News reports.
The Mayors’ Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness already has gained commitment from 77 mayors, four governors, and four county officials. Obama, who partnered with Dr. Jill Biden for the initiative, is hoping to use a little friendly competition to urge officials to get more involved in finding homes for their local vets.
“I want to know if more mayors can challenge each other on this issue,” Obama added. “Can you challenge a neighboring mayor or governor to see who can get all their vets into housing first?”
“These leaders are best equipped to tackle this challenge because they know their communities inside and out. They are in touch with service providers who know these veterans by name,” the First Lady said. “They aren’t just going to address veteran homelessness in their cities and states, they are going to end it.”
Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan were also in attendance during the announcement of the new initiative.
Though veteran homelessness has dropped annually since 2010, the Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that since 2013, there are almost 58,000 vets without a roof over their heads on any given night. That is still too high of a number to welcome home the men and women who fight for us, Obama notes, calling it a “moral outrage.”
“Tens of thousands of veterans who risked their lives for our country are sleeping in their cars, or in a shelter, or next to a subway vent.” Obama continued. “We should be horrified because that is not who we are as Americans.”
For veterans like Chris Fuentes, the extra attention on transition programs will give veterans one less thing to worry about upon returning home. Fuentes, who introduced the First Lady, had to send her daughter to live with her mother after coming home from service in Iraq, CNN reports. The soldier had lost her job and was living in a car before a fellow veteran informed her of VA services that assisted her in finding a new house to bring home her daughter.
With the help of state and local leaders, the First Lady is hoping all vets can return to a home of their own, too.