First Lady Michelle Obama called veteran homelessness “an absolute outrage” last week in an address during the winter meetings of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
“It is a horrifying stain on our nation, particularly when you think about all that these men and women have done for our country,” she said.
The First Lady didn’t call out San Diego as a city that has lagged in helping get military veterans off the streets. But she did praise other cities that answered her challenge to end veteran homelessness by the end of 2015, including Los Angeles. Houston, Las Vegas and Philadelphia are also among cities that reached “functional zero,” meaning most veterans now have roofs over their heads.
Obama urged the nation’s mayors to step up efforts to eradicate homelessness. “Your peers have provided you all with a road map for how to get this done,” she said. “Whether you’re a big city, a small county or an entire state—someone just like you has done it.”
San Diego leaders may be waking up to the reality that exists on 16th Street in East Village, surrounds Tailgate Park near Petco Park and spreads all over the county—in neighborhoods, riverbed encampments and hundreds of nooks and crannies.
Indeed, this is a busy week for the cause. The San Diego City Council has declared Jan. 24-30 Connect, which provides basic services for people Homelessness Action Week. Project Homeless on the streets, is Jan. 27., and the annual Point-in-Time Count of homeless individuals begins late at night on Jan. 29.
During his annual State of the City address, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer announced an initiative to get 1,000 veterans off the streets by the end of 2016. Yes, our starter’s pistol fired when L.A. and other cities were ending their marathons. But “better late than never” can still save lives of veterans and civilians who need coordinated “housing-first” assistance.
The task of benchmarking the mayor’s Housing Our Heroes initiative will fall to the San Diego Housing Commission. A press conference with more details from the mayor will come Feb. 3. SDHC spokesperson Maria Velasquez says 30-60 days after that progress will be reportable.
The goal is getting 1,000 (currently unsheltered) veterans housed by Dec. 31, 2016. Divided by 12, that’s 83 vets that need to be housed per month. If no progress was made in January, then the quota is 90 per month. The closing line here for the mayor, and those working on his initiative, is this: We’re counting on you—literally. It’s time to remove the stain.