- Associated Press - Monday, April 20, 2015

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - New Orleans’ success in moving homeless veterans off the streets and into housing is an example and challenge for the nation, first lady Michelle Obama said Monday.

She also said the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development was making $64 million in housing vouchers available for veterans Monday, and the CEO of The Blackstone Group LP, which has several hotel chains in its portfolio, has promised to help create “welcome kits” of furniture, appliances and other supplies for previously homeless veterans moving into housing.

New Orleans’ work is “a call to action for the entire country,” Obama said.

She said city and federal agencies, nonprofits and businesses have found homes for nearly 270 veterans since she started the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness in June. That includes 226 given homes by January, making New Orleans the first major city to meet the challenge, and 42 so far this year, Obama said.

This year’s figure “is not a sign of failure. That is a sign this system is working,” by finding and housing veterans as they become homeless, she said.

She and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu spoke to leaders from government, industry and the nonprofit sector who had gathered from around the country for workshops to learn from each other.

Officials say 432 mayors, seven governors and 131 other local officials have pledged to house all veterans in their communities by the end of this year.

The wife of Vice President Joe Biden, Jill Biden, was expected to attend Monday’s event. Obama told the gathering that “my girl” did not make the trip because she was feeling ill.

Obama told the stories of two formerly homeless veterans, one of whom kissed the ground when he returned from Vietnam, then spent three decades without a home.

“When veterans come home and kiss the ground, none of them should ever have to sleep on it,” she said.

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