We all know that the vast majority of America’s veterans return home and go on to find good jobs, build strong families, and keep on serving our country in their workplaces, congregations, and communities. But we also know that today, in cities and towns across this nation, there are men and women who wore America’s uniform in wars as far back as Vietnam and Korea — and as recent as Iraq and Afghanistan — but don’t have a roof over their heads.
For too many years, the conventional wisdom has been that veterans’ homelessness is an impossible problem — too big and entrenched to ever really solve.
We disagree — as do our husbands. That’s why, in 2014, we launched the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness, and since then, more than 800 city and county officials have committed to ending veteran homelessness in their communities. Here in Philadelphia, officials and advocates have worked for months to track down every homeless veteran in this city, get to know each of them by name, and collaborate with landlords to quickly find permanent housing for them. And today, Philadelphia has fulfilled its commitment, proudly announcing that this city has ended veteran homelessness and can quickly provide permanent housing for any veteran who becomes homeless in the future.
In doing so, Philadelphia joins cities across the country — including Houston, Mobile, Syracuse, Las Vegas, and New Orleans — as well as the entire state of Virginia. Together, they have shown us that ending veterans’ homelessness isn’t just our moral obligation, it is a realistic, achievable goal, if we summon the will and devote resources equal to the task.
That’s what President Obama and Vice President Biden have done since they first took office: They have made veterans’ homelessness a government-wide priority, cutting through the bureaucracy and devoting record amounts of funding and resources to house our veterans.
The results have been dramatic: Since 2010, veteran homelessness has decreased by 36 percent, and we’ve housed nearly 230,000 veterans and their family members through government housing vouchers and homelessness programs.
But while we’re making important progress, we believe that one homeless veteran is still one too many. Our veterans have risked their lives for our country, and when they don’t even have a place to go when it rains, that is an outrage and a stain on this nation. Our work will not be finished until every veteran has a place to call home and every community has the tools it needs to keep veterans from sliding back into homelessness, so we urge other cities to follow Philadelphia’s lead.
And as we approach the fifth anniversary of our Joining Forces initiative — a nationwide effort to rally all Americans to recognize, honor, and support our veterans, troops, and military families — we plan to keep working with state and local officials, landlords, advocates, and others to help all veterans find safe, affordable housing in their communities.
But government can’t do this alone. We need businesses, nonprofit organizations, faith communities, and others across the country to pitch in as well. City by city, state by state, we have plenty of work to do together to solve this problem.
And of course, ending veteran homelessness today doesn’t mean that we’ll never see another veteran on our streets in the future. But it does mean that when a veteran experiences a housing crisis, Philadelphia — and other cities across the country — will be prepared to get them back into a home right away.
That is the very least we can do to serve America’s heroes as well as they have served this country.