Michelle Obama Speaks at Homeless Veterans Initiative

The first lady joins mayors and community leaders as they set a goal to end veteran homelessness by 2015.
20:40 | 06/04/14

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Transcript for Michelle Obama Speaks at Homeless Veterans Initiative
This is a special group. I'm Michelle Franzen in New York the discussion today at the White House has once again about veterans. But this time it's the First Lady talking Michelle Obama discussing an ongoing campaign to help homeless veterans. The First -- is about to speak soon -- joined by dozens of mayors from around the countries taking part in this initiative. It's called the mayor's challenge to -- veteran homelessness. Back in 2010 the Obama administration's at a gold in veteran homelessness by 2015 the White House says the number of homeless veterans has dropped forty. Percent. Chris and I and I she -- -- -- you know. She served our country and she's -- baby. And this is Chris is also the face of veterans and the face of homelessness. Which is why today is so important and we are grateful that she can be here to share her story we are proud Chris. I'm proud of everything you're -- -- be because we know you're gonna keep contributing so. I also want to thank secretary Donovan for his tremendous leadership -- as well as mayor -- Castro who we are confident. We'll continue to build on the progress that we've been making. I also want to -- acting secretary Sloan Gibson. Sloan and I had done some really good work together and I am so happy he's joining us and is going to keep doing great work and we're just -- for for his distinguished service to our country for so many years. As well as mayor -- for doing such. Phenomenal work in Salt Lake City. -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- Okay. The -- Day I got in the lord but -- her reputation precedes her she's the executive director -- the inner agency council on homelessness. So -- -- immediate advancements we. Me it's been because of the council's work to streamline and coordinate our efforts across agencies so I want to thank Laura. And everyone from the council for their outstanding leadership and service. And most of all I want to thank all of you here today. Our guests. Our mayors our community leaders state county and city federal employees who work day in and day out to repay our debt to our veterans. -- now unfortunately homelessness among our veterans is an issue that we're all too familiar with. Sometimes we see these folks on our way to work more when walk in our kids home from school. We might pass them. Someone -- -- strolling through the park sitting on the bench and not even realize that he or she is a veteran. Maybe we say hello. -- -- -- -- sandwich but often we just keep on going. Rushing off to the next meeting -- our heads into -- Smartphones. To not that we don't care it's just that we think well there's no way will ever solve this problem. That's just the way things go. But that kind of thinking starts to melt way when we. Better understand the stories of these veterans. The man who lost his arm in Vietnam. And when he and his wife's medical bills kept piling up they lost their home. The gulf war -- who injured her back and lost her job and in her house. And spent months on the streets. The army veteran from the Iraq War who survived cancer. But when she and her two kids -- evicted from their homes. They had nowhere to go out. These -- just three stories. Altogether roughly 58000. Veterans are experiencing homelessness in America today. A number that fortunately has fallen sharply in the past few years. But whatever the number these brave men and women have served this country with courage and grace. Some volunteered to serve many others were drafted. They went off the far away jungles and deserts and mountain regions. They saw their best friends -- in ambush. -- because of the suicide. Bomb. Some of them were left wondering why they were the ones who survived. After all that too many of them have come home only to fight in new -- The battle to keep a roof over their head. Battle justice have somewhere to go when it rains. Now I want to be very clear. The vast majority of our veterans return home in good health and good experience. They Golan. To build good families find good jobs they keep serving this nation. In their communities through their congregations and schools and neighborhoods in fact. The percentage of veterans who are homeless today is actually just point 3% of the total veteran population. But even one homeless veteran is a shame. We have 58000. Is a moral outrage. Tens of thousands of veterans who risk their lives for our country are sleeping in their -- -- in a shelter or next to a subway -- We should be horrified because that's not we are as Americans. And so we can't just their upper hand and say that this problem is to -- exports. Because the truth is. It's not. When you break down. The numbers you see that those 58000 homeless veterans are spread out across all of our cities and states. So even in some of our largest metropolitan areas were often only talking about a few hundred people. For example. As of the year and a half ago New Orleans had -- don't -- 211. Homeless veterans. And they'd been driving that number down ever since. In an Indianapolis. The most recent count of vets still on the streets was eleventh. And these numbers are still too high because any number above zero it's too much. And that's why as president my husband vowed to end this problem once and for all and he's doing it -- And he has a direct hit record levels of funding toward helping homeless veterans achieving historic success. And getting our men and women in uniform in the housing. Almost 90% of today's homeless veterans served before 9/11. But this is the first time anyone has made this a government wide priority. We got cut and the DA and the interagency council leading the way. And we're also working with the Department of Health and Human Services. The Department of Labor and nonprofits. And community leaders leaders on the program. We cut through red tape and streamline efforts across agencies. And together. We have made some extraordinary progress for instance Chris told you about. Those housing vouchers from -- and the DA that helped her find a home. That program has existed since the early ninety's. And up until 2000 -- eight. It had housed a total of about 18100 veterans. But this administration strengthened its historic levels and since 2008. The program -- brought more than 73000. Veterans out of homeless. I'm no mathematician. But somebody did the numbers forming. That means that in the last few years more than forty times as many veterans have been help in during most of the program's entire history. Any other program Chris mention. Be supportive services for veterans families SS Villa. Is a new program started by this administration three years ago to prevent low income veterans families from falling into homelessness. And last year alone serve more than 60000. Veterans and their family members and next year. We expect that number to grow up over 100 that -- -- -- -- We all know these programs are making a significant. Difference even during difficult. Economic times veteran homelessness in America hasn't dropped by 24%. In just three years so we're beginning to make some real. Important progress on this issue. But we know that we are nowhere near finished as I said before -- any number of about zero is way too high. And we still have tens of thousands of bats without -- -- so we can't rest not even for a moment. And that's why I am so thrilled and everyone in this building is so happy to announce a new effort. Called the mayor's challenge to in veteran homelessness. We have got seven. These leaders yeah. These leaders are best equipped to tackle this challenge because they know their communities inside and out. And they're in touch with service providers who know these veterans by name. So they aren't just going to address. Veteran homelessness in their cities and states they're going to Indy. And they're going to do it by the end of 2015. That is. Not stations all but it is achievable. It is absolutely achievable. We've seen incredible success at the local level lottery as as you heard mayor Becker as well as his counterpart -- Phoenix mayor Greg Stanton. They already effectively -- chronic homelessness among veterans in their states in New York. Eight pounds more than 2000 veterans in the last year alone. Governors John Hickenlooper in Colorado has been making some incredible progress on this issue for almost a decade. And governors Mark Dayton and Dan -- in Minnesota and Connecticut are also on board -- well. And we've got mayors like Chris Coleman from Saint Paul, Minnesota. Mitch Landrieu from New Orleans and -- east Parker from Houston. And all of these leaders are involved because. This isn't just the right thing to do for veterans. It's also the right thing to do for their budgets. A recent studies have shown that just one -- chronically homeless person. Can cost communities between thirty to 50000. Dollars per year. An emergency room visits and medical bills law enforcement. For some some individuals see it can be even higher. But the cost to give someone -- home of their own. There's only about 1000 dollars. So this makes sense on so many different levels. And that's why -- want to -- every one who is already leading the way in this effort and I also want to urge more leaders across the country. To get involved as well. We got to get more people I know how competitive our mayors can be. I've seen it that's why I'm very excited. If you got that like to beat each other nationalities. We -- in Phoenix and Salt Lake City so. I want to know if more mayors. Can challenge each other on this issue. Can you challenge -- neighboring mayor or governor Agassi who can get all their bets in the housing first. That's the Canucks can you challenge yourself to be the first in veterans homelessness in the midwest -- in the south take a region get it done. -- each -- you get just one more Maier won more governor to sign up. And this challenge isn't just for mayors governors and county officials but -- for all of us. For businesses and congregations. And community organizations. And that's where we hope -- join forces. Can help. When Jill Biden and I started. Joining forces three years ago one of the the groups we were most concerned about was are homeless -- but the truth is we didn't really know how to get started. But over the past few years that we it's as we've seen federal and local. Efforts succeed we realized that this problem isn't too big for us to tackle. So today in addition to announcing this wonderful new effort. We are issuing a call to action to Americans all across the country to do their part to take this issue. -- asking. All of you out -- it. Volunteer your time to help these veterans navigate the system to find the resources they burned. Maybe you can donate money for new business to pay a veteran security deposit maybe you can start. A donation drive in your community to support efforts to get -- and housing. And if your mayor isn't on board yet I'll light up their phone lines. -- -- the newspaper. We all have power -- make a real difference on this issue and we have the power to change the minds he. -- her. -- from Chris. We have another example. -- have a wonderful man named Doran hopper who's here with us today. -- served in the air force for three years including -- deployment to Korea during. The Vietnam War. I never saw combat but he saw more death and devastation most of us ever will. So we got back to -- State's Dorn says the first thing he did was kneeled down on a patch of grass and kissed the ground. But in the months and years that followed -- just couldn't shake things he'd experienced he started drinking more and isolated himself from his wife and his baby daughter. Ended up getting a divorce and falling in with the wrong people. And for almost three decades. -- was homeless. As he says now he says I tried to kill myself for thirty years. Slowly. City got so bad that people were throwing changes my feet in the streets. And finally -- decided to turn his life around. He wrote down a list of 21 things he wanted to accomplish. Being like opening a bank account. Cooking in his own kitchen. He moved from Detroit to Saint Paul, Minnesota. And once he got there you walk across town to a local nonprofit that he knew could help them. With their help and help of the Minnesota assistance council for veterans. He got into housing and -- substance abuse treatment program. And today. Doran has checked -- all 21 items on that -- -- -- -- and in the kitchen. Fans -- -- even hugged his daughter who's been separated with almost point five years. Like so many of our veterans -- and continues to give back. He is working full time at the caseworker to help other veterans fine and sustained housing of their own. He's dedicating his life to making sure that every veteran who comes home will never have to go through what he did. And here's the thing that's especially. Important now. Because with our war in Iraq over and our war in Afghanistan drawing to a close thousands. Of men and women who risk their lives for this country are transitioning back home. And we cannot make. The same mistakes for this generation that we -- for the past generations so that means we got to move quickly. We got to share best practices between cities we got time every veteran like Chris. And make sure that she doesn't fall into homelessness in the first place -- We've got to reach out to every veteran from -- -- generation. And get them under a roof right this minute. We have made great progress over the past few years because of leaders like all of you who. Refuse to accept veteran homelessness as a fact of life. And now we have to finish the job once and -- all. He has won a veteran comes home kissing the ground. It is unacceptable. That he should ever have to sleep on. So. -- just like it's our country's duty to bring back all of our men and women from the battlefield. We've also got a duty to make sure that every single veteran has placed call home when they get here. And for the rest of their lives. So thank you all thank you for this effort. Thank you for your courage thank you for all the work that so many people have been doing on the ground long before we ever showed up. This means so much to these men and women and their families. It is truly a sign that they are coming home to a grateful nation and I am proud to be part of this effort. So let's get to work -- She did at the White House a gathering of mayors and community leaders. Before speaking about veteran homelessness the Obama administration is set a goal to end veteran homelessness by 2015. The White House as the number of homeless veterans has dropped by 24%. But there is currently. Nearly 50000. Homeless veterans in the US. Keep up with the story of course tried downloading the ABC. -- and starring this story for those exclusive updates on the go this has been an ABC news. Digital special report I'm Michelle Franzen in New York.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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