The U.S. is on track to end veteran homelessness by the end of next year, even in Los Angeles, the epicenter of the problem, U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro said Saturday.
"I believe we can," Castro said at the United Way of Greater Los Angeles' HomeWalk to end homelessness in Exposition Park. "We are making progress as a nation."
Castro, a rising Democratic star whose been mentioned as a possible running mate for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race, said that under the Obama administration Congress had increased the number of rental vouchers for veterans from the 20,000-30,000 range to 75,000-80,000.
Los Angeles County has an estimated 4,618 homeless veterans, the highest number of any jurisdiction in the country.
The county also receives the most vouchers, which are the federal government's primary weapon to end veteran homelessness, of any jurisdiction in the nation, Castro said. Mayor Eric Garcetti has pledged to get every homeless veteran in the city into housing by the 2016 deadline.
Castro said he believed that local officials and nonprofit agencies in Los Angeles were using the federal aid in a "smart and effective" manner. All U.S. homelessness could be ended by 2020 if Congress continues to provide the resources, Castro added.
Los Angeles County, with nearly 40,000 displaced men and women, is second only to New York City in the number of residents without homes, and is first in the nation in unsheltered people sleeping at parks, underpasses and sidewalks. Despite the increased federal aid, new encampments have sprung up in unexpected places across Southern California in the past two years, in part because of rising rents, experts said.
The United Way's eighth annual HomeWalk drew 13,300 participants, including Haley McGraham Paisley, who carried a blown-up photo of her uncle in her arms.
John Robert McGraham was mentally ill and homeless for decades in Koreatown, his sister, Susanne McGraham Paisley, said. He was burned to death in 2008 by a local barber with a vendetta against homeless people, said Paisley, who accompanied her daughter on the walk.
The family "tried to get him into a psychiatric hospital and he just walked away," Paisley said.
Lakers star Kobe Bryant's appearance at the walk was canceled without explanation, but some of the Laker girls led the crowd in warmups. The event raised almost $1.3 million, a United Way spokeswoman said.