Mayor Eric Garcetti committed Wednesday to accept the Obama administration's challenge to end veteran homelessness 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's pledge came during an appearance in Century City with First Lady Michelle Obama, who told 900 business and labor leaders, politicians and homeless advocates at the Unite for Veterans Summit that success in Los Angeles County is crucial to meeting the administration's homelessness goal. The county has the most homeless veterans in the country, more than 6,300.
"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.
"And the truth is, we know that there are simple steps that we can take -- whether that’s in business or government or in our communities -- to prevent and solve these kinds of problems," she said.
Obama said the administration would help Los Angeles, but did not offer specific aid, which some homeless 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 veteran rent vouchers, caseworkers and other resources.
Garcetti also reiterated an earlier promise to join with the county to secure 10,000 jobs for veterans by 2017.
Maria Elena Durazo, chief of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, said at the summit that unions including the pipe-fitters, painters, elevator construction and sheet metal workers had committed to giving veterans preferences in their apprenticeship programs. The electrical workers are reserving 50% of their slots for veterans, she added.
"Through union apprenticeships, veterans are not just given jobs, they are guaranteed lifetime careers for themselves and their families," said Durazo, who urged listeners to support full job benefits for undocumented immigrant workers.
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 the 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 Swearengen of Fresno.
The pledges 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 2015 deadline is on," Page said.
Molly Rysman, Los Angeles director of CSH, a low-income and homeless housing group, said she expects the mayor's commitment will generate momentum for veteran aid.
"The mayor has been very committed to being data-driven," she said. "I would expect that this commitment will result in key metrics that he will measure and keep political attention on."
The summit's organizers also included the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco and the USC Price School of Public Policy.
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