Michelle Obama congratulates New Orleans on ending veteran homelessness

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First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama commended New Orleans' efforts to eliminate veteran homelessness, which officials say is the first in the country to do so. Obama was the guest of honor at a conference this morning at Gallier Hall, attended by a host of city officials, including Mayor Mitch Landrieu, police superintendent Michael Harrison and members of the New Orleans City Council.

Obama and Jill Biden launched an initiative among U.S. mayors to reduce veteran homelessness in their cities by the end of 2015, with President Barack Obama also aiming to end veteran homelessness nationwide. Mayor Mitch Landrieu says the city — with a partnership involving federal, state and local nonprofit agencies — was able to house more than 200 veterans by the end of 2014 by using a "housing first" system. The Landrieu administration says another 42 veterans have been housed since January.

"We seem to resign ourselves to a reluctant acceptance of this reality," Obama said. "We feel badly about it, we know it is not right, but we've almost come to believe this problem is too big, too entrenched, to ever solve. I want to be very clear. The vasty majority of veterans who return whom, they come home in good health, in good spirits, they go on to build strong families and good jobs, and they keep serving. ... But even one homeless veteran is an outrage. And when we have tens of thousands of veterans who don't have somewhere to go when in rains, that is a stain on our nation. ... When they come home kissing the ground, none of them should ever have to sleep on it."

Since the beginning of the program, nearly 230,000 veterans and their families have been housed nationwide, Obama said. She also announced a new batch of federal housing vouchers available to local and state agencies, as well as a partnership with Blackstone (a private equity firm that owns Hilton Hotels) to prepare "welcome home" kits and provide furniture to homeless veterans in their new homes.

"Mayor Landrieu decided to make this a citywide priority," she said, commending the city for hiring veterans to reach out to homeless people and perform sweeps to enroll them in the housing program. "It's not just an extraordinary achievement for the city, it's a call to action for the entire country."

Before introducing Obama, Landrieu criticized the congressional gridlock while pointing to the multi-agency success of the homeless program in New Orleans.

"There's a lot of dysfunction in D.C. right now. Congress can't seem to get out of its own way," Landrieu said. "They should work together. They should pass the trade bill, they should pass the human trafficking bill, they could without a whole lot of work confirm Loretta Lynch today, who is a great candidate for our attorney general, and find a way to start making things happen."

Several people have turned down offers to join the program, and there remains a substantial homeless population throughout the city. 

"This job is never going to end," Landrieu said. "Tomorrow there's another veteran that will find themselves in a difficult circumstance that's going to need housing. The system should be designed so we'll be able to find that veteran in a reasonably short period of time. There's a pathway to housing security."

"Ending veteran homelessness doesn't mean we'll never see a veteran on the street," Obama said. "That's an unfortunate reality. It means when someone does experience a housing crisis, we will be prepared to get them back into a home right away and for good."


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