Prepared Remarks of Secretary Shaun Donovan at the National Homeless Persons' Memorial Day

New York Ave. Presbyterian Church, Washington, DC

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Thank you. It is an honor to speak to you this evening.

I'd like to thank all the national and local advocacy organizations for sponsoring this important memorial.

Having interned many years ago with the National Coalition for the Homeless, I've seen for myself the extraordinary commitment each of you have to housing the most vulnerable among us.

And I'd like to recognize my friend Barbara Poppe of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. Barbara has long been a champion for homeless Americans both inside and outside government. She makes a real difference in people's lives -- and this Administration is so fortunate to have her.

Tonight, we gather to honor the 30 men and women in the Washington, DC area--and men and women across the country--who are no longer with us for one simple, yet tragic reason:

They didn't have a home.

Too often, men and women who are homeless in America are invisible to America.

I'll never forget one time when I was in graduate school, when class was over, I went outside and saw a homeless man standing on the street corner.

I'll never forget what he was doing:

He was holding a picture up.

It was a picture of himself as a soldier.

He was holding that picture because it was the only way he could be sure he wouldn't be invisible to me and to others passing him on the street. It was the only way, he figured, we would notice he was even there.

No one who is homeless, much less someone has fought for our country, should ever be invisible to the people of their community.

Tonight is one night of the year when those homeless men and women who have passed away no longer are invisible -- when their lives are honored, their experiences seen, and their loss mourned.

But as much as tonight is a night of remembrance, it's also one of affirmation -- as we commit ourselves to ending homelessness once and for all in this country.

By any measure, homelessness is a tragedy.

But what makes that tragedy even more heartbreaking is that homelessness is a problem we can solve.

The homeless advocates and activists here tonight know that we can solve homelessness. You know it because in local communities, you are doing just that -- partnering with local and state agencies and the private and nonprofit sectors to provide the housing and supportive services homeless men and women need to escape homelessness once and for all.

It was in part due to your efforts--and your refusal to give up--we reduced chronic homelessness by a third inside of five years -- a remarkable achievement by any standard.

Together, we proved what just a few years ago seemed nearly impossible:

That we can end homelessness in America -- chronic homelessness, family homelessness, veterans homelessness.


And with the first federal strategic plan to end homelessness in our history, marshaling the collective force of 19 separate agencies to tackle this challenge together under President Obama's leadership -- we will end homelessness in America.

Indeed, with this service and this plan, we say to all of the men, women and children assembled here this evening who are without the safe, affordable housing they need:

Your government sees you.

It sees your struggle, it sees your hope, it sees a way out of homelessness -- and intends to help you find it.

I know many of you attended the memorial service of Sister Mary Ann Luby at St. Aloysius Church, not five minutes from where we gather tonight.

You came out to honor Sister Mary Ann's life not just because she was a force for homeless and low-income men and women in the District of Columbia for three decades -- although she certainly was.

You came because Sister Mary Ann was determined to make their voices heard -- to make homeless men and women visible, and to allow them to reclaim their dignity.

And so tonight, as we honor, and remember, those men and women who are no longer with us, we carry with us Sister Mary Ann's remarkable example in our hearts.

And in so doing, we commit to an America in which we never again have to mourn those who died simply because they didn't have a roof over their heads.

Tonight, we grieve for their passing -- and let their memory push us forward, from a long, dark night into a brighter, more hopeful tomorrow.

Thank you, and God Bless.


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