Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs
Remarks by Secretary Denis R. McDonough
Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing (APAH)
Terwilliger Place Grand Opening
September 23, 2022
Good afternoon, everyone. Ron [Terwilliger], thank you for that gracious introduction. More importantly, thanks to you for your service in the US Navy, and thanks to you and your wife, Fran, for your generosity in making this day possible.
Let me also acknowledge Carmen Romero. Carmen, thanks for your leadership of the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing and the great work that partnership does.
Bob Romano, thanks for your leadership of American Legion Post 139 and for finding a way to work with APAH to make this grand opening possible today.
And thanks to all of the individuals, corporate, and foundation partners who generously contributed to the APAH Uniting to Serve Campaign. All of you, too, made this day possible.
You know, when young Americans sign up to serve our country in the military, we make them a promise. If you fight for us, we will fight for you. If you take care of us, we’ll take care of you when you come home.
And our nation makes that promise, but it’s the job of all Americans to help keep that promise, to keep it for Veterans like Justin Fisher.
Justin’s a 25-year Veteran of the US Army, a gentle giant at about six-foot-three, big beard, the type of guy my Minnesota Vikings could use this season. In 2009, he came out of retirement from the Army in Minnesota to go on active duty in Iraq at the height of the war—serving in the 34th Infantry Division, Army National Guard.
During that deployment, Justin had many experiences, both inspiring and terrifying. When he came home, he found work driving a school bus for a local school in Minnesota. But post-traumatic stress made that difficult. When he followed other buses, it reminded him of following armored vehicles in Iraq, of IEDs, and imminent danger.
Then, one day, someone left exploded fireworks in the road that reminded Justin of a partially buried IED—sending him into a panic. And that was his last day on the job. He quit driving that bus, for the good of the students.
After that, Justin struggled to find work. And before long, he and his wife and their children were homeless. After 25 years of service, Justin and his family didn’t have a home in the country he’d fought to defend.
That’s not right. It will never be right, for any Veteran.
In fact, the term “Homeless Veteran” shouldn’t exist in the greatest country in the world.
And at VA, we’re determined to stop that injustice. We’re fighting like hell to end Veteran homelessness. We’re focusing on two simple goals: getting Veterans into homes, and preventing them from falling into homelessness. And we’re making real progress.
Last October, we set two ambitious goals to address Veteran homelessness in LA, where there are more homeless Vets than anywhere else in America. The first goal was to get all of the roughly 40 homeless Veterans living on Veterans Row, a homeless encampment, into housing. The second was to get 500 Veterans in LA into housing by the end of the year.
I’m proud to say that we not only accomplished those goals—we exceeded them. And that was just a beginning. Nationwide this year, we’re going to get 38,000 Veterans into homes. 38,000.
As of the end of August, we have achieved 26,554 permanent housing placements for formerly homeless Veterans, nearly 70% of the goal—and on pace to achieve our goal by the end of the year. So, we’re just not going to try to accomplish these big goals for Veterans. With your help, and the help of others in communities across the nation, we’re going to accomplish these big goals for Veterans. And get them the houses they so rightly deserve.
That’s the reason I’m honored to be part of this grand opening today. We know that lack of affordable housing is the number one contributor to Veteran homelessness. And that’s why the work of APAH, and the opening of Terwilliger Place, are so important.
Here, half of the 160 units have a preference for Veterans and their families, and Terwilliger Place will also house HUD-VASH voucher recipients via robust support from VA and Volunteers for America.
And this is a unique initiative. APAH’s partnership with the American Legion, though it meant Legion Post 139 lost their home for a while during demolition, will return to a brand new home on the first floor of Terwilliger Place—a new, one-of-a-kind collaboration; a win for Veterans, APAH, and the Legion.
This strategy is replicable in other locations. It can be a successful blueprint to help increase the stock of housing dedicated to Veterans and provide more opportunities for those who have served. Together, we can and will deliver for Veterans.
Because no Veteran should be homeless in the country they fought to defend. Not one.
And that includes Vets like Justin Fisher, who I mentioned earlier. And who, I’m happy to report, is doing very well today. He and his family now have a great 5-acre farm and home. He recently became a grandpa. And I’m proud to say that he worked at VA for the last seven years.
We can all do our part—affordable housing, jobs, food security, support for the Veterans who served us. It’s everything Justin and so many other Veterans rightly deserve. Because this fight against Veteran homelessness takes all of us, working together.
And if we do work together, it’s a fight we will win.
Thank you so much for having me, and for all you have done with this truly exceptional facility.
May God bless our nation’s Veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors—and may we always give them our very best.