Matthew Doherty Stands in Unity with Orlando, Announces Central Florida Has Ended Chronic Homelessness Among Veterans

The following remarks were made by Matthew Doherty at The Road Home event in Orlando, Florida, June 23, 2016.

I want to thank Andrae Bailey and the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness for inviting me. I also want to thank Mayor Dyer and Mayor Jacobs for their incredible leadership.

I am truly honored to be here with all of you today. For many reasons, it is one of those days I know that where I am is right where I should be - right here, right now, with all of you.

On behalf of everyone at USICH and the entire Obama administration, I want you to know that our thoughts have been with you these last painful days.

On behalf of my husband and myself, I want to personally thank every one of you who has unequivocally embraced the LGBTQ community of Central Florida during this time.

And I also want to acknowledge that the LGBTQ community is not alone in experiencing our specific pain; our thoughts also remain with communities of color, and especially the Latino communities, of Central Florida and across the country. The tragic deaths of so many people, and particularly so many young people, is a profound loss to the beautiful diversity that makes our country and our culture stronger in so many ways.

We’ve also all been witness to the remarkable spirit and powerful unity your community has demonstrated. A spirit through which people of all faiths have joined together to rise above hate and violence. You’ve chosen to counter hate with an expanding love, and to recognize that our humanity unites us across any differences.

To my eyes, you’ve responded to tragedy with patriotism in action – a patriotism grounded in supporting one another, caring for one another, doing what we can to ease each other’s pain. Grounded in creating opportunities for one another, and refusing to be divided by our differences.

And given what I know about your community, that response does not surprise me at all. I know this community best through your work to end homelessness, including Veteran homelessness. Even during this time, you’ve not lost focus on the needs of Veterans, who have served and protected our country. Veterans who have cared for us and kept us safe through their military service, but who are now experiencing homelessness.

To me, ending homelessness is also patriotism in action. And you’ve pursued that goal and taken action with qualities that seem built into your cultural DNA.

You’ve tackled that work as an expression of your civic pride and have grounded your efforts in doing what is best for your community as a whole. You’ve sought to learn broadly and to share freely, learning from the successes and challenges of other communities, contributing to the national conversation, and always wanting to employ the best and strongest practices.

And you’ve deployed those practices through shared and collaborative leadership, cutting across all sectors and systems. When I look across this room, I see leaders from government, from the business community, from the health care sector, from non-profits, from faith communities, and many more. I don’t see that everywhere I go. Every part of your community knows that it has roles to play and that every one of those roles will be vitally important for your success.

You’ve also made the needs and goals and lives of people experiencing homelessness central to your work, valuing the humanity and dignity and voice of every person, including your most vulnerable neighbors. And when the work gets hard or you experience setbacks, you exhibit the resiliency and grit necessary to move forward through adversity.

And you do all of that as if there is no other way to approach the work - that’s what I mean by it being in your cultural DNA. I like to think that same DNA runs through our culture at USICH.

I see similar threads of cultural DNA in other communities making the greatest progress, like New Orleans and Houston, Salt Lake and Syracuse, Virginia and Connecticut, and many, many others. And I also see that cultural DNA being replicated in other communities who are similarly undaunted by the challenges they face and resolute in their pursuit of progress.

There is no denying that that cultural DNA is working for you - your progress is remarkable. As the Homeless Services Network of Central Florida has reported, based upon your 2016 Point in Time count, you’ve reduced homelessness 23% in just one year, and 60% since 2013. That’s fantastic.

And there is more news and progress to report – which is another reason that I am honored to be with you today. Yesterday, on behalf of USICH, VA, HUD – and the entire administration – we notified Mayor Dyer and Mayor Jacobs and other leaders that we’ve confirmed that Orlando and Orange County, Osceola County, and Seminole County have effectively ended chronic homelessness among Veterans.

Let me pause on that news a moment. Through the work that you all have done together, you have achieved an incredibly significant milestone; you’ve effectively ended chronic homelessness among Veterans. Veterans who have faced the greatest challenges, who have experienced the longest experiences of homelessness.

I want to offer both my congratulations and my thanks for that achievement, and I know that Secretary McDonald of the VA and Secretary Castro of HUD wish that they were able to be here to offer their congratulations and thanks in person as well. It meant a lot to me to be able to share First Lady Michelle Obama’s words and thoughts with you earlier - please know that we have also notified her office of your achievement.

I hope everyone here recognizes the significance of what you’ve accomplished. If you’ve needed proof of what is possible locally, you’ve got it now. If you needed proof that you can end all Veteran homelessness in Central Florida, you’ve got that proof now. If you needed proof that you can also end all chronic homelessness, you’ve got that proof now. If you needed proof that ending all homelessness really is possible, you’ve got that proof. And you’re helping to provide that proof to the entire nation.

I don’t worry for a moment that you’ll hear this news and think that your work is done. I know that your cultural DNA won’t let you be satisfied with that milestone. It’s clear that doing just good enough by one another is not good enough for you, you’re driven to do the best you can for one another.

And that’s why I have every confidence that soon you’ll be able to celebrate the effective end of all Veteran homelessness in your community. And why I have confidence that you’ll dedicate the hard work and vigilance to sustain that progress next week, next month, next year, and into the future. Please know that USICH and our federal partners stand ready to work with you and support you in the work ahead as you continue to pursue your goals.

Your community is serving as an inspiration and model for every American of how, when everyone pulls together, a community can rally together through devastating grief, and for how a community can set and pursue – and achieve - ambitious goals.

And you’re inspiring me personally. Inspiring me to bring even more partners and players into our national efforts. Inspiring me to make sure that everyone understands that we have proven that an end to homelessness is achievable. Inspiring me to do more to help drive even greater progress. And inspiring me to act with more love and less fear.

Thank you for that inspiration, for the chance to be here with you this morning, and for the chance to speak with you.

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