Mayor Eric Garcetti on Wednesday took up the Obama administration's challenge to end homelessness among veterans in Los Angeles in the next 17 months, saying he will not accept that "veterans live in our city without a place of their own."
Garcetti made the pledge during an appearance in Century City with first lady Michelle Obama, who told 900 business and labor leaders, politicians and advocates for the homeless at the Unite for Veterans Summit that success in Los Angeles County is crucial to meeting the administration's homelessness goal. The county has more than 6,300 homeless veterans, the most in the country.
"The image of even one of these heroes sleeping out in the cold, huddled up next to an overpass—that should horrify all of us," Obama said. "Because that's not who we are."
Obama said the administration would help Los Angeles, but did not offer extra federal aid, which some advocates say is essential to meeting the city's 2016 deadline. The mayor's office has been in conversation with the White House to obtain more veterans rent vouchers, caseworkers and other resources.
Garcetti pledged to end chronic and veteran homelessness during his election campaign, but has not fully outlined his strategy. His new promise is to house the 2,600 homeless veterans living within city limits, not the region's 6,300 individuals.
Mayors from 40 states, including California, have already signed on to the administration's challenge, including Bob Foster of Long Beach, Rusty Bailey of Riverside, Edwin M. Lee of San Francisco and Ashley Swearengin of Fresno.
The summit came as residents from Highland Park to West Los Angeles are complaining of an unprecedented proliferation of homeless encampments and car campers in their neighborhoods.
"We still are seeing people who have not rebounded from the recession," said Elise Buik, chief executive of United Way of Greater Los Angeles, one of the summit's organizers.
"General" Jeff Page , a skid row activist, said the Obama event was meant to distract attention from reports that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs falsified patient wait times, and said the focus on homeless veterans will come at others' expense.
"We in skid row who are not homeless vets will be pushed to the back of the line as this mad scramble to meet the ... deadline is on," Page said.
Later in the day, Obama took to an entertainment-industry pulpit in Los Angeles to stump for expanding the role of arts in education, saying that 6 million children in the U.S. have no exposure to any form of arts in school.
Speaking at Club Nokia during a Grammy Museum-sponsored luncheon, Obama stressed that music and other forms of art often connect with students and enhance their interest in core subjects such as math, science and history.
"For so many young people, arts education is the only reason they get up out of bed in the morning," she said in her keynote address at the event, which saluted musician Janelle Monae and Placentia school teacher Sunshine Cavalluzzi.
Times staff writer Randy Lewis contributed to this report.