Michelle Obama, appearing at Gallier Hall alongside Mayor Mitch Landrieu on Monday to congratulate New Orleans for being the first major American city to effectively eliminate homelessness among military veterans, announced a trio of new measures aimed at helping cities across the country do the same thing.
Obama said the federal government is releasing nearly $65 million in new housing vouchers for veterans, and a new monthly conference call will help coordinate efforts among the cities participating in the first lady’s “Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness.” Meanwhile, Blackstone, a leading Wall Street firm, has committed to handing out “welcome home” kits, with furniture, appliances and other household necessities, to veterans moving into new housing in 25 cities.
“You all have proven that even in a city as big as New Orleans, veterans’ homelessness is not a reality that we have to accept,” Obama said, addressing a room filled with local elected officials and nonprofit leaders. “It is not an impossible problem that’s too big to solve.”
More than 400 mayors, seven governors and other local officials have signed on to the first lady’s challenge to end homelessness among veterans nationwide. It’s part of her 4-year-old Joining Forces initiative, which is aimed broadly at improving veterans’ overall well-being.
Landrieu, after accepting the first lady’s challenge on homelessness in July, was the first mayor to announce that his city had met her goal, working with local nonprofits, active-duty military personnel and federal agencies to place homeless vets in shelters and other temporary housing.
Some of the federal vouchers announced Monday, which come from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, will help bolster New Orleans’ efforts.
Of the 9,000 vouchers doled out, 46 will go to veterans in New Orleans for rental assistance, totaling almost $500,000.
At Gallier Hall on Monday, Landrieu said the city continues to identify and find accommodations for newly homeless veterans.
The exact figure remains a moving target. Initially, the city counted 193 such veterans, but it had found housing for a total of 226 by the end of 2014.
Since then, Landrieu said, another 45 homeless veterans have been identified.
“All of us know the hard truth, that this job is never going to end,” Landrieu said. “Tomorrow there’s going to be another veteran who will find themselves in a difficult circumstance. ... But the system should be designed so that when you find that new veteran, within a real short period of time, there’s a pathway to new housing.”