Last night, I joined Secretary Donovan for Washington, DC’s 22nd Annual National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. About two hundred people: some homeless, some advocates and allies, and many friends and family members, showed up to honor and remember the 67 homeless men and women who lost their lives in the Washington D.C. area this year. As we lit candles of remembrance and sang “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” in honor of those who passed, it dawned on me how gravely important every single day of work here at HUD is.
In the course of long days, long weeks, and long months, it can be easy to lose sight of the stakes in the fight against homelessness. Seeing the quiet, but tragic outcome of a job left unfinished was enough to send a flush of shame creeping up my neck when I thought of the times I’ve complained about a stressful day at the office, or a weekend cut short by work. Hearing the inspirational and determined words of the speakers last night reaffirmed my own commitment to doing everything I can to raise awareness of the devastating effect homelessness has on families and communities.
Fortunately, we’ve elected a real ally in the fight against homelessness in President Barack Obama. The President began his career working as a community organizer in the public housing projects of Chicago, working with families acutely aware that they were one lost job, or one medical emergency away from being out on the streets. He understands the corrosive effect growing up with instability can have on a developing child, and has set some ambitious goals to combat the problem. The President, through the inter agency council on homelessness he established, has vowed to end chronic and veterans’ homelessness in five years, homelessness for families, children and youth in ten years, and has set us on a path for ending homelessness altogether.
This plan, which you can read on the U.S. Inter Agency Council on Homelessness (USICH) website, has already begun to work. Last year, in the midst of some trying economic times, we actually saw a reduction in homelessness overall, a heartening outcome. Even more encouraging was the news on veterans’ homelessness. Thanks to President Obama, Secretary Donovan, and Veteran Affairs Secretary Shinseki’s laser-like focus on fulfilling our commitment to our nation’s heroes, homelessness among veterans dropped by twelve percent. Though we still have a long way to go, these are good signs that the federal plan put in place is working, and as our economy continues to rebound, those numbers should begin to move even more rapidly towards our goals.
As 2011 comes to a close, I couldn’t have asked for a better reminder of the importance of our work than the one I got last night at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. It is my fervent hope that one day soon, we won’t have to gather to mourn the lives of homeless men and women we’ve lost, because homelessness will be nothing but a memory.