In Memorial Day Speech, Mayor Commits to Ending Veteran Homelessness (+Video)

May 26, 2014 7:28 pm Last Updated: May 26, 2014 7:59 pm

NEW YORK—While honoring the nation’s veterans at a Memorial Day ceremony, Mayor Bill de Blasio committed to ending homelessness among veterans in New York City.

“In this city we want to end the reality of veterans who are homeless. We don’t want that to be a part of our city anymore,” de Blasio said near the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum on Monday morning.

In a plan released last week, the city committed to the national goal of ending homelessness among veterans by the end of 2015. To achieve that goal the administration plans to redouble its efforts in delivering existing federal programs. “The city will also identify and rehouse veterans living in shelters and on the street,” the plan states.

There are 885,000 veterans living in New York State according to 2013 data from the Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA).

The federal government shoulders the lion’s share of funding veterans’ benefits, with $1.6 billion spent on New York City veterans last year.

On the city level, the city Mayor’s Office of Veteran’s Affairs helped 50 veterans with jobs and 134 veterans with housing services. A special unit in the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) was established in 2008 to help homeless veterans. Two shelters dedicated exclusively to veterans can house up to 381 people, according to the DHS.

Veterans accounted for 16 percent of the homeless population nationwide in 2010, according to VA. In 2009, about 9 percent of veterans were unemployed. Veterans have had a lower unemployment rate than non-veterans every year from 2000 to 2009, according to a VA report.

De Blasio’s remarks come as allegations of misconduct at veterans’ hospitals have rocked the federal veterans agency. President Barack Obama vowed to punish those responsible if an investigation uncovers any wrongdoing.

De Blasio delivered his speech to a crowd of sailors, veterans, and dignitaries near the Intrepid. He then launched one of the four wreaths of flowers into the Hudson River in honor of veterans who have lost their lives. Sailors then unfurled a 100-foot American flag.

Four Parents in the Military

The mayor mentioned his parents at the ceremony. Both of them served during World War II. De Blasio’s mother served in the Office of War Information. His father, Warren Wilhelm, served in the army. Wilhelm fought in some of the toughest battles and lost his leg in the battle of Okinawa in 1945.

The parents of the mayor’s wife, Chirlane McCray, also both served in the military. Her father served in the army in Europe and her mother worked on an assembly line in Springfield, Mass.

The Intrepid

The mayor said that the Intrepid holds a special place in his heart, since it is a real piece of history. Before it was decommissioned in 1974, the ship was part of many battles and was the target of several kamikaze airplane attacks. In total, some 270 men died on the ship and in the air above it.

“The Intrepid has always meant a lot to me. Whenever I’ve been here, it doesn’t feel abstract. It doesn’t feel like I’m in a museum,” de Blasio said. “It feels like I’m touching something that is part of our own family’s lives.”