Los Angeles County officials are considering mandating that veterans make up a significant percentage of workers hired for most county construction projects.
"The most potent antidote to homelessness, to mental illness, is a job and housing," he said.
He said he had chosen veterans as the targeted group because the population includes people from across the spectrum in age, gender and ethnicity.
But some of his colleagues balked at making it a requirement rather than a voluntary goal.
The supervisors postponed a decision until county staff members can provide more information about the number of veterans employed on past county projects through voluntary programs to hire disadvantaged workers.
Supervisor Zev Yaroslavksy, who asked for the additional information, said he's "not sold" on making the program mandatory. Ridley-Thomas said in an interview that a voluntary program won't be effective.
Veterans and supporters urged the supervisors to support the mandate.
"They are eager to get back to work, but it's hard for them," said Kookie Williams, director of the veterans' center at Los Angeles Trade Technical College. "I've seen them go from the military to school to out of school and there's nothing for them."
Some other public agencies have hiring mandates for disadvantaged groups, although not necessarily focused on veterans.
The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, for instance, requires that 40% of the work hours performed on most MTA projects be done by people who live in economically disadvantaged communities across the county, and within that group, 10% must come from people who fit certain criteria, including single parents, the homeless, and war veterans.
Ridley-Thomas' proposal did not say what percentage of project workers would have to be veterans, instead leaving it to the county's chief executive office, public works, and veterans affairs departments to decide on the appropriate figure.