Michelle Obama scheduled to speak at L.A. summit on homeless veterans

A homeless man pushes a train of shopping carts near 9th Street in L.A.'s skid row.
A homeless man pushes a train of shopping carts near 9th Street in L.A.’s skid row.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Facing a 2016 deadline to make good on pledges to end veteran homelessness, First Lady Michelle Obama and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti are scheduled to speak at a conference Wednesday in Century City, where they are expected to reveal new initiatives to get former service members off the streets.

Also slated for the event is Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary-treasurer of the L.A. County Federation of Labor, who will discuss an effort to get more veterans into union apprentice programs.

“We really do feel like the issues of homelessness and jobs are linked,” said Elise Buik, president of United Way of Greater Los Angeles, one of the event organizers.


The conference comes during fundraising trips by the Obamas. The Democratic National Committee events will include a $5,000-a-head, off-the-record discussion with the first lady on Tuesday.

The president is set to be here July 23 for a photo reception and dinner at the home of “Scandal” television producer Shonda Rhimes, featuring actress Kerry Washington. The cost is $20,000 per dinner guest, and the photo reception is $10,000.

Buik said the homeless summit was a rare chance for labor, business, government and nonprofit groups to work together.

“Because we’re so fragmented along every dimension -- public/private, 88 cities, city/county -- we don’t have many chances to be in the same room where we can be committing to things together,” she said.

Los Angeles County’s sprawling homeless population, estimated at 36,000 to 54,000, includes the most veterans -- more than 6,000 -- in the country. That number may grow; nearly 12% of post-9/11 veterans in L.A. County are living in poverty, according to the United Way, whose Home for Good project addresses homelessness.

Realizing it can’t reach its own goal of ending veteran homelessness without the cities, the White House in June called on mayors to pledge to end veteran homelessness by the end of 2015, Buik said. Garcetti made a similar pledge during his election campaign a year ago.


Buik said the first lady’s appearance is testament to the central role L.A. will play in the drive.

“They can’t hit the goal nationally if we can’t hit it locally,” Buik said.

The event’s organizers also include the city of Los Angeles, the Federal Reserve Bank and the USC Price School of Public Policy.

Follow my reporting on homelessness and poverty at @geholland.