WASHINGTON, June 4, 2014 - First Lady Michelle Obama today announced an initiative to end homelessness among veterans in cities across the country by 2015.
The Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness is a partnership between the departments of Housing and Urban Development and Veterans Affairs, and it harnesses the power of federal, local and nonprofit resources.
"Unfortunately, homelessness among our veterans is an issue that we're all too familiar with," Obama said. "Sometimes we see these folks on our way to work, or when we're walking our kids home from school. We might pass someone, as we're strolling through the park, sitting on a bench and not even realize that he or she is a veteran. ... It's not that we don't care, it's just that we think, 'Well, that there's no way we'll ever solve this problem.'"
About 58,000 veterans are currently homeless, she said. This number has fallen by 24 percent in the past three years, and is just 0.3 percent of the total veteran population, the first lady noted.
"But even one homeless veteran is a shame, and the fact that we have 58,000 is a moral outrage. We should all be horrified," Obama said.
America can't just throw up its hands and say the problem is too large to solve, she said. "These brave men and women have served this country with courage and grace," she added.
Mayors from 77 cities in 35 states have joined the challenge, as have the governors of Puerto Rico, Colorado and Connecticut.
To aid the mayors, the federal government has provided resources and enforced programs to strengthen the nation's homeless assistance programs, according to a fact sheet released by the White House.
"These leaders are best-equipped to tackle this challenge because they know their communities inside and out," Obama said. "They aren't just going to address veteran homelessness, ... they are going to end it. And they're going to do it by 2015."
The program is part of a larger federal effort to aid veterans that has seen record-level funding directed at it by President Barack Obama. The first lady also called on the program's participants to challenge other mayors and governors to end veteran homelessness in their cities and states.
"Can you challenge a neighboring mayor or governor to see who can get all their vets into housing first? Can you challenge yourself to be the first to end veterans' homelessness in the Midwest or in the South? Take a region, get it done," she said. "Can each of you get just one more mayor or one more governor to sign up?"
The challenge is not just for mayors or governors, Obama said, adding that everyone can help end veteran homelessness.
"We are issuing a call to action to Americans all across the country to do their part to take this issue on," the first lady said. We're asking all of you out there to volunteer your time to help these veterans navigate the system to find the resources they've earned. ... Maybe you can start a donation drive in your community to support efforts to get vets into housing.
"And if your mayor isn't on board yet," she continued, "light up their phone lines. Write in to the newspaper. We all have power to make a real difference on this issue. We have the power to change lives here. ... We can't rest, not even for a moment."
Copyright 2015 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.