It is a pleasure to be here today with so many friends and fellow advocates, especially during such a busy time for Al and me. As you can all imagine the next few months and the upcoming year is going to be very hectic.
A real roller coaster ride. Many sleepless nights. Hundreds if not thousands of photo-ops.
And I'm just talking about baby-sitting our new grandson Wyatt!
Al and I are absolutely thrilled. Wyatt was born on the Fourth of July. As Al said, he clearly has a natural gift for timing! I am hoping there will be many more grandchildren in our future, but just like the moment you realize you are having your first child – this is pretty special.
Al and I have talked about the fact that our grandchild will live his entire lifetime in a world that is shaped by the decisions we make today.
We believe that we have an opportunity and an obligation to help create a 21st century where every child has the chance to succeed.
America is enjoying a time of great hope and prosperity. Because of the leadership of my husband and President Clinton – and your hard work and activism – we are building a nation where every child and every family has the opportunity to succeed.
We've come so far, but the hard truth is that many Americans do not see the fruits of our prosperity in their daily lives.
Millions of Americans still lack health care coverage denying them and their families the physical and mental care everyone needs to live strong and healthy lives. Too many Americans still lack the education and training they need to get good paying jobs, while others cannot make ends meet off of the wages they receive. And as we prepare to enter the 21st Century, it is inexcusable that many women cannot get an equal day's pay for an equal day's work.
These challenges are coupled with the reality that over 5 million families pay more than 50% of their income for housing while many others are living in substandard housing. And as we all know, at least 600,000 men, women and children are homeless on the streets of America each and every night.
This is unacceptable. Let us work together – and if necessary fight together – to close the opportunity gap and end homelessness in America once and for all.
I am proud to be part of an Administration, with colleagues like Andrew Cuomo, that is working with you to revolutionize the way communities respond to homelessness through our Continuum of Care strategy and Consolidated Planning process.
I was in Nashua, New Hampshire on Tuesday and saw first hand how the Continuum of Care changes lives. I met a young man with severe mental illness who has held down a job and stayed in housing for three years – the longest period of employment and housing stability he has ever enjoyed – because of the comprehensive services he receives from a program in the city's Continuum of Care.
I met Sharron, a single mother on public assistance who reached out to her local soup kitchen when she was on the brink of becoming homeless. She not only found a warm meal at the soup kitchen, she also found what she was really looking for – the chance to get an education. Because of the support and services Sharron received from the soup kitchen, she completed her bachelor's degree and is now pursuing a master's degree and working as director of multicultural affairs at a local college.
I asked her son about the affect his mother's achievements have had on his outlook on life. He told me that his mother's example inspired him to "push along in school." Well he just graduated from high school and will begin studying electrical engineering this fall.
Person-by-person, family-by-family, we can break the cycle of homelessness.
Protecting the existing stock of affordable housing and finding creative ways to increase the number of affordable units on the market; expanding opportunities for low-income people and families to realize the American dream and become homeowners; and creating housing options that meet the diverse needs of the homeless and people at-risk of becoming homeless – we must work together on these important challenges.
That is why this year's budget proposes: increasing the Low Income Housing Tax Credit to create an additional 180,000 rental housing units; 100,000 new housing vouchers; and, investing more than $1.1 billion to expand the Continuum of Care. We have submitted these proposals to Congress, but we need your help to get them passed.
If we are truly serious about expanding housing opportunities, we must also address the enduring legacy of housing discrimination. It may be subtler today, but make no mistake, it is just as real, just as destructive, and just as demeaning as it was a generation ago. We are committed to working with you to fight discrimination whenever and wherever it occurs.
To end homelessness, we must combine housing and equal opportunity with support and security. Put plainly, to finish the job we need decent wages, job training, child care, and physical and mental health care for people in need.
This Administration has put forth proposals to address these issues. But we need your support – and that of your friends and neighbors – to get them passed. I would especially like to ask you to help us pass the largest increase in federal support for state and community mental health services so more Americans, including the homeless, can get the mental health help they need to live healthy and fulfilling lives.
Let us also look beyond policies and programs and focus on people, families and communities. We cannot solve problems such as homelessness with government action alone; people, families and communities must solve them. Government can never be a substitute for the security of a caring community, the warm embrace of a parent's love, or the inspiring wisdom of a good teacher.
Unfortunately, too many people, in too many communities, view mental illness and homelessness with fear and misunderstanding. Discrimination and the "Not In My Back Yard" syndrome still divide our communities and impede our work. Too many communities have decided it is easier to impose sanctions that remove homeless people from the streets and get them out of sight rather than struggling with the hard business of developing solutions. Being poor and homeless is not a crime in America; it is a crisis requiring immediate response and sustained action.
We have the opportunity to share our understanding and unite our communities around a common effort to address these issues. This year, I have been pleased to work on a photo exhibition with the National Alliance, the Corcoran Museum, and an outstanding group of photographers whose pictures convey the true face of homelessness in this country. The exhibition will open later this year; however, I can tell you it shows the homeless for who they are – survivors who manifest strength and dignity in the midst of adversity. It also honors many of you, the activists, caregivers, and ordinary citizens who have found lasting solutions to this challenge.
I look forward to working with the National Alliance as we take this exhibition to communities all across this country. And I look forward to working with you as we continue the struggle to touch the lives of people and families in need, fight for policies that expand the circle of opportunity, and build a nation that is truly home to everyone.