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National Coalition of Homeless Veterans - Speech

National Stand Down Conference
National Coalition of Homeless Veterans - San Diego, CA
July 12, 2002

I’m particularly happy to be back in San Diego since Washington is experiencing one of its hottest July’s on record.

But even in an area known for its pleasant breezes and moderate temperatures, the tragedy of homelessness among our nation’s veterans should put a chill into all our hearts.

Because no matter what the weather, any night that someone spends on the streets is a cold, cruel, bitter experience.

So I am particularly pleased that Linda Boone has chosen to come to the city that gave birth to the concept of the Stand Down to discuss how we can better bring programs and services to veterans so desperately in need of help.

There is an old Scottish proverb that says poverty is a pain but not a disgrace.  The same should be said about veterans without homes.

Our country is rich in resources; rich in creativity; rich in generosity. So how can we tolerate more than a quarter of a million of our fellow veterans to remain without homes and without hope in this land of plenty?

As long as these capable women and men go to sleep hungry, cannot provide for their families, and suffer from the physical and mental torments made even worse by their aimless wanderings, there is unfinished business that must be done.

And it is at Stand Downs that much of this business is being done.

The concept of bringing together dozens of organizations providing programs and services to help veterans parallels President’s Bush’s management agenda of One Government.

Because veterans don’t really care what agency administers the services they need.  

They just want to know that they can count on getting what they need when they need it.

And that’s exactly what Stand Downs do.

Stand Downs take a cooperative, holistic approach to providing a continuum of services so that veterans can get the help they need quickly and easily.

That’s my goal for the Veterans Employment and Training Service, too.

VETS proudly supports Stand Downs because our goals are the same: To get the veteran rehabilitated and back into society as a productive citizen with a good job.

The key is partnerships -- with state and local agencies, with businesses, labor unions, and community and faith based organizations.

Just as we are forming coalitions to defeat terrorism and defend freedom around the world, we are now building coalitions to defeat homelessness and expand opportunities for our veterans here in San Diego and across the nation.

VETS just issued more than $7.3 million in grants to 35 organizations to provide services to homeless veterans.

Seven of those grants were in California; two right here in the San Diego area.

The best antidote for homelessness that I know of is a good, career building job.

VETS is working with our state partners to make sure that veterans, especially those just transitioning from military to civilian life, aren't forced to experience prolonged periods of joblessness that so often leads to homelessness.

Two hundred years ago, the English poet William Wordsworth witnessed the tragic irony of homelessness in a nation on the cusp of the Industrial Revolution.

He wrote: "And homeless near a thousand homes I stood, And near a thousand tables pined and wanted food."

America's 21st century veterans deserve a more optimistic legacy.

It is within our power to achieve it.

With your prayers and your active involvement, I know we will succeed.

Thank you.

God bless you all and God bless America.