Remarks by Secretary Denis R. McDonough - Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs
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Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs

Remarks by Secretary Denis R. McDonough

Ending Homelessness: A Virtual Conference 2021
National Alliance to End Homelessness
Washington, DC
March 9, 2021

Tim [NAEH Board Vice Chairman], thanks for that kind introduction.

Nan [Pres. & CEO], Jeff [Board Co-Chair], and Gary [Board Co-Chair], thanks for the opportunity to join you. And to everyone on the National Alliance to End Homelessness team, thank you for the magnificent work you do for this country, for all those struggling with homelessness.

As White House Chief of Staff, I learned that when it comes to shaping the right policies to address homelessness in America, it’s important to have NAEH at the table. You bring the collaborative power of all the public agencies, private partners, and more than 10,000 providers that you represent. You bring the enormous collective power of your institutional knowledge—lessons learned and best practices about what works, and about what doesn’t work, in addressing homelessness. And underlining all of this is the most important common denominator, your deep and abiding compassion for all people.

The goodness you represent inspires me. I’m grateful you’re one of VA’s most important partners in the fight to end Veteran homelessness. I look forward to strengthening that partnership, and I’m committed to making even greater strides toward ending homelessness.

Over the course of the last decade, our country has seen a decline of about 11 percent among the homeless, and a nearly 50 percent decline in Veteran homelessness. Three states and 81 communities have announced an end to Veteran homelessness. But for any person or family homeless tonight—Veteran or otherwise—those numbers don’t mean a lot. I know we all agree. So, we have a lot of work to do, and to do together.

President Kennedy’s words bear repeating here. “By working together . . . a rising tide lifts all boats.” Together, we have to take inventory of models that work: models and systems of interventions that move people from homelessness to housing; models that provide immediate access to housing, and connections to a range of services that facilitate the transition from homelessness to stability; and models that answer the needs of all people, whether they’re briefly homeless from a string of bad luck, or on the streets for years because of severe disabilities, needing long-term subsidies and extensive medical care.

For VA and Veterans, we’ll continue to depend on some proven models: HUD-VASH, that prioritizes chronically homeless; Veteran Justice Programs and Treatment Courts; Supportive Services for Veteran Families; Homeless Providers Grant and Per Diem; Community Resource and Referral Centers; robust data analytics and research assessing the effectiveness of our programs.

And we’ll keep identifying and sharing best practices with all of our partners. One best practice among many that excites me is our Cemetery Apprentice Program. This apprenticeship is a joint effort between our National Cemetery Administration and our Health Administration’s Homeless Veteran Community Employment Services. The program provides Veterans who are homeless or at-risk of homelessness entry-level technical training on cemetery caretaking and permanent employment in our national cemeteries. Apprentices learn personal financial management and conflict resolution, too.

That’s a big part of Veteran David Lowe’s success story. Thanks to that apprenticeship program, Housing First, and our people at the Dayton VA Medical Center, David went from homelessness to a good job as a caretaker at the Dayton National Cemetery. Today, he’s helping keep watch over the nearly 50,000 Veterans and family members resting there, and David is just one of 85 Veterans that apprenticeship program has helped.

And Housing First will remain our flagship for addressing homelessness for Veterans. Here’s why. Housing First is a proven principle. Housing First, coupled with initiatives like HUD-VASH, puts Veterans on the path to permanent housing and decreases the risk of housing instability. Housing First is humane. It’s a dignified way to help Veterans achieve the stable, permanent housing every person deserves.

It’s thanks to Housing First, HUD-VASH, and VA employment services that Veteran Derrick Chatmon overcame years of instability and homelessness. With the help of great people at the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center in Chicago, Derrick found a steady job he enjoys, married the love of his life and, last November, bought a home. Derrick said, “I am very grateful for the VA programs. Without them, I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish what I have.” 

And there’s Veteran Marvella Jackson. After losing her job, Marvella and her children fell into a cycle of homelessness. Thanks to Housing First and our people at the D.C. VA, Marvella and her children are in a home, and she has returned to work. Marvella said, “This is the kind of stability I’ve never experienced. This place is such a blessing.”

So, Housing First will lead VA across every aspect of our services for homeless Vets. It is essential for success. And it’s about keeping promises.

As I testified in my confirmation hearing before Congress, President Biden has given me a clear mission. That’s to be a fierce, staunch advocate for Veterans. And I testified that he has, among other top priorities, directed me to keep focus on working to eliminate Veterans homelessness.

That’s work I embrace, and here’s what I know about it.

When it comes to eliminating homelessness, I know it’s work I can’t do alone, that VA can’t do alone, that no single person or agency can do alone. The outcomes we’ve seen for Veterans are the product of strong support from elected officials and powerful advocacy from people like each of you. I know we have to keep depending on one another for the sake of those who need our help.

And I know that no matter which population of homeless people we’re helping, meaningful progress will take coordinated, collaborative, inter-agency work at any level we’re serving—whether that’s local community, municipal, state, federal, or a combination of those. It will take strong, committed, and innovative leadership at every level.

And we all know that it will take resources—human, material, and fiscal—that are adequate to answer the needs of the homeless. President Biden’s American Rescue Plan will make a difference.  It’s a testament to President Biden’s commitment to helping the homeless: tenant-based rental assistance, development and support of affordable housing, supportive services, housing counseling, and prevention services for the homeless and those at risk of being homeless.

And I know this. Given the extraordinary wealth of this country, given the immense resources, tangible and intangible—the ingenuity and the innovative spirit—it’s a tragedy, an avoidable tragedy, that there are people in this country without homes.

Everyone should have a home. Every Veteran should have a home.

Listen, Veterans didn’t serve this nation, didn’t make the enormous sacrifices they have made, didn’t sacrifice their lives on the altar of freedom so the people they were defending could be homeless, so that they or their fellow Veterans or families could be homeless.

And that’s why I’m going to fight like hell every day to ensure we serve Veterans as well as they have served this country. And I am going to do everything I can to help this Alliance achieve your mission of ending homeless altogether.

God bless all of you. And may God bless our troops, our Veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors. And may we always give them our very best.