Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy was at the White House on Wednesday to exchange ideas with other mayors and government officials across the country on ways to end homelessness among veterans.
The White House event was led by first lady Michelle Obama, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. McCarthy was one of more than 75 government officials who committed to ending veteran homelessness in their communities by 2015. The goal of the initiative is to use the power of federal, local and nonprofit resources to address the issue.
“We don’t have a huge problem when it comes to this,” McCarthy told The Gazette afterward. “Some places like New Orleans still have thousands of homeless vets, while Salt Lake City has completely eliminated their veteran homelessness issue.”
There are fewer than 20 homeless veterans within Schenectady, he said, adding that the figure changes slightly depending on which data are used.
The mayor received an invitation from the first lady to attend the White House event after signing up for the challenge in January at the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ annual winter meeting in Washington.
Over the past three years, the U.S. has seen its homeless veteran population decrease 24 percent. In 2010, the Obama administration set a goal of preventing and ending veteran homelessness by 2015. On Wednesday, the first lady announced the commitment of 77 mayors, four governors and four county officials to meet that goal, and called on more officials to join the cause.
Part of the event Wednesday included panel discussions and an exchange of ideas on what has worked in some communities and what hasn’t, McCarthy said. He picked up a few ideas he hopes to bring back to the city, he said, but declined to provide specifics.
“I want to work them internally first,” he said. “We all have similar problems, including getting people to work together. It’s got to be a coordinated approach to the problem. So giving someone an apartment or house doesn’t address the underlying mental health issues or drug issues or other issues that may have caused them to become homeless in the first place.”
However Schenectady decides to end its veteran homelessness population, it will be part of the mayor’s larger initiative focusing on home ownership and revitalizing the city’s housing stock.
The federal government is urging communities to use several resources and reforms, including HUD’s Veteran Affairs Supportive Housing program and the VA’s Supportive Services for Veteran Families program.