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Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez
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Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis

Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis
National Veterans Forum on Homelessness
Hyatt Regency, Crystal City, VA
Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Good Morning Everyone.

Thank you Ray (Jefferson) for that warm introduction.

And thank you for leading our efforts at the Veterans Employment and Training Services Department.

I also want to thank Secretary Shinseki for his commitment to our men and women in the armed services and for his tremendous service to our country.

Friends, I stand here today inspired by all of you - with a feeling of great pride — grateful for your impeccable leadership, and convinced that together we can change the course for our nation's most vulnerable Veterans.

I'm especially honored to be here on the 69th anniversary of Pearl Harbor and proud to stand with you in fighting this good fight.

Today I'd like to talk about leadership.

A term we — despite its varying definitions — know very well.

We are leaders in the boardroom, in government, and in communities all across this nation.

Leadership is something we "do" on a daily basis.

And I find it fitting — that at this defining moment in American history — we pause, to think about how we lead.

To be thoughtful about where our leadership IS in the lives of our Veterans and where it needs to be.

America has an obligation here.

An obligation to the many mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, who've put their lives on the line for each and every one of us.

Without a doubt, they've answered their call to duty.

And now, it's time for us to answer ours.

Because, while we've made significant progress over the last two years, still too many of America's Veterans go to sleep in our streets, under bridges and in vacant homes.

Many of them cold, hungry, and without a shred of certainty about what tomorrow holds in store.

Who do they look to? Who are their heroes? Where is their leadership?

It's all of us in this room, and it's in the hearts of people who work all over this country to finally put an end to homelessness for our Veterans.

And as I reflect on the work we've done, I can't help but remember a speech I gave last month — "A salute to Veterans and their Families."

On stage with me was a gentleman named Keith Cole.

Keith was a homeless Marine Veteran.

He went looking for help at one of our Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program providers.

Keith was a part of the "job club" and began to book interviews.

Initially, they went well, but a poor criminal history posed many barriers.

But he was coached and eventually nailed an interview with IBM.

I'm happy to say that he landed a job, earning $26 an hour and is eligible for a benefits package.

Keith's story is powerful but his struggle is not unique.

Like him, there are people all over this country, desperate, looking for help.

We know that an estimated 107,000 former service men and women remain homeless on any given night — that's too many.

And many of them suffer from mental illness and traumatic brain injury.

And sadly, the number of homeless female veterans is increasing — many, with families to care for.

The VA estimates that nearly half a million Veterans pay more than half of their income or rent.

And more than half of them have incomes below the federal poverty level; making it nearly impossible to pay for things like healthcare.

This is devastating — not only for vets — but for the economy as a whole.

However, it's also important to note that, more often than not, Veterans find themselves overqualified for jobs; that their military skills don't necessarily align with jobs in the civilian sector.

Equally important is that approximately 85% of homeless Vets have completed high school or completed their GED.

And that roughly 45% need help finding a job.

That's why, as the incoming Chair of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, I am humbled to join our sister agencies and a broad coalition of community organizations, in the effort to implement Opening Doors — the first-ever comprehensive strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness.

I'd like to recognize my colleague, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan for his leadership of the council last year. Thank you Mr. Secretary!

I look forward to building upon his leadership of the Council to promote the importance of interagency collaboration.

The Department of Labor has played an integral role in the development of Opening Doors and is leading the efforts to increase sustainable employment and create meaningful careers for our nations most vulnerable.

And it's critical to weave efforts to prevent and end homelessness with economic recovery and jobs programs.

Because the best defense against homelessness is a job that pays.

And that's why we remain committed to providing job training and re-employment assistance.

It's why this year the Labor Department has invested over $25 million to help approximately 14,000 homeless veterans find meaningful employment.

And it's the reason why we've provided $5 million in grants specifically to organizations serving homeless female veterans and veterans with families.

President Obama has made clear his support of the Interagency Council and is dedicated to its continued success.

The President has:

  • Signed an executive order establishing the Veterans Employment Initiative;
  • He has committed funding to help veterans start their own businesses;
  • And he has announced investments in contracts for veteran-owned companies to build solar energy projects at military hospitals, clinics and cemeteries;

The bottom line is — this administration understands that too many Veterans don't receive the support they've earned.

And we are committed to breaking down the silos and bureaucratic impediments at the federal level, because the work we do in Washington means nothing if we can't count on you.

Because the goals of this administration are bold.

And bold goals require thoughtful leadership — collaborative leadership from each of us in this room.

There is too much at stake for our Veterans. And only together can we transform the lives of people like Keith.

Because as much as Keith needs us - in this economy — now more than ever, we need him too.

Ending homelessness is not only the right thing for our Veterans, but necessary for our recovery as a nation.

Our mission is clear.

And our men and women deserve nothing less.

This is President Obama's commitment and it is proudly, mine too.

Thank you.

God Bless you.

God Bless our troops, and God Bless America.