STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS -- (Senate - April 10, 2007)
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Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, I rise today to introduce the Homes for Heroes Act of 2007. I am pleased to be joined by Senators Schumer, Menendez, Brown and Cantwell in offering this legislation.
As we respond to the moral question of how we honor our sacred trust to care for our returning servicemembers and veterans, I am reminded of my grandfather, who signed up for duty in World War II the day after Pearl Harbor. He marched across Europe in Patton's army, and when he came home to Kansas, he could have very easily faced some tough times.
He could've had trouble paying for college, or finding a job, or even finding a home. But at the time, he lived in a country that recognized the value of his service--a country that kept its promise to defend those who have defended freedom. And so he was able to afford college through the GI Bill, and he was able to buy a house through the Federal Housing Administration, and he was able to work hard and raise a family and build his own American Dream.
And after I think about my grandfather, and the opportunities he had as a veteran, I then think about a veteran I met named Bill Allen, who told me that on a trip he took to Chicago, he actually saw homeless veterans fighting over access to the dumpsters. Think about that. Fighting over access to the dumpsters.
Each and every night in this country, more than 200,000 of our Nation's veterans are homeless. And nearly twice as many will experience homelessness over the course of a year. There is no single cause for this.
Homeless vets are men and women, single and married. Many suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder; others were physically and mentally battered in combat. A large number left the military without job skills that could be easily used in the private sector.
All have risked their lives for their country. All deserve--at the very least--the basic dignity of going to sleep at night with a roof over their head. And every day we allow them to go without, it brings shame to every single one of us.
This is wrong. It's wrong because we're quick to offer words of praise for our troops when they're abroad, but quick to forget about their needs when they come home. It's wrong because we have the resources and the programs in place to help solve this problem. And it's wrong on a fundamentally moral level--the idea that we would allow such brave and selfless citizens to suffer in such biting poverty. And so it is now our responsibility--it is now our duty--to make this right.
These heroes often have not connected to vital housing and supportive services that could make all of the difference. Many more low income veterans and veteran families live at the margins and are at risk of becoming homeless in the absence of permanent housing solutions and supportive services. While it's one thing to get veterans off the streets temporarily, it's another to keep them off--to place veterans in real, permanent homes. In fact, the VA has consistently identified permanent housing as one of the top three unmet needs in the fight against veteran homelessness. And despite the tremendous demand for homeless services, the federal government serves only a tiny fraction of those who are in need.
That's why I'm introducing a bill today called the Homes for Heroes Act. This is a bill that would help expand access to long-term, affordable housing by creating a fund so that the community and nonprofit organizations could purchase, build, or rehabilitate homes and apartments for veterans.
So that we don't just leave them to face their personal challenges on their own, the organizations would also provide services like counseling, employment training, and child care to the veterans who live in this housing. And the Homes for Heroes Act would expand the number of permanent housing vouchers for veterans from the current number of less than 2,000 to 20,000, and make this authorization permanent. These are vouchers that have been highly successful in giving veterans the chance to afford a place to live.
Every day in America, there are men and women on street corners with handwritten signs that say ``Homeless Veteran--Will Work For Food.'' Sometimes we give a dollar, sometimes we just keep walking. These are soldiers who fought in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq. They made a commitment to their country when they chose to serve and now we must keep our commitment to them. Because when we make the decision to send our troops to war, we also make the decision to care for them, to speak for them, and to think of them--always--when they come home.
This kind of America--an America of opportunity, of collective responsibility for each other--is the kind that so many of our parents and grandparents came home to after the Second World War. Now it's time for us to build this America for those sons and daughters who come home today.
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