Mayor Pawlowski was recently invited to the White House to attend an announcement by First Lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden. The First and Second Ladies are co-founders of the White House initiative “Joining Forces,” which finds ways to end homelessness of U.S. Armed Forces veterans across the country. Mayor Pawlowski attended the event at the request of the First Lady herself.
“There should be no veteran ever that comes home, kisses the ground after serving overseas and then ends up sleeping on it,” Pawlowski said.
Joining Forces is a three-year-old initiative which seeks to encourage businesses to hire and train veterans and other agencies to provide education and healthcare services. The plan is to utilize over 800 local governments nationwide with coordinated outreach, as well as a “Housing First approach,” to put an end to homelessness by 2015, a date established by President Obama. In April alone, foundations and corporations in support of this endeavor pledged more than $160 million to aid veterans and their families.
The concept of homeless veterans is not new to the Lehigh Valley, where veterans fill 20 out of 40 beds at Bethlehem’s Victory House. Raymond Bonilla, a veteran of Vietnam who recently lost his home, said, “I feel like the government is not doing enough. I mean…they are sending money out of the country every day. We got to take care of our own first.”
David Byrd, a veteran of the U.S. Army who has been in and out of shelters since 2008, expressed similar dissatisfaction; “Makes me feel like our country has let us down. I want nothing more than to have a place of my own. A place to live that’s mine. I want a place I can take my children to.”
The Lehigh Valley is just one example of this epidemic which has spread across the nation. There are nearly 58,000 homeless veterans in the United States, and that number will keep rising unless proactive action is taken. Mayor Pawlowski is intent on decreasing that figure, starting here in Allentown. “We are going to continue our fight and utilize our resources to try and end homelessness for veterans in the city of Allentown,” he said.