Meet the Housing Heroes of the Bay Area  Bob Woodruff Foundation

Meet the Housing Heroes of the Bay Area 

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In the heart of the Bay Area, an ongoing challenge persists as unhoused veterans confront the hardship of homelessness. Local support organizations and Got your 6 Partners are determined in their efforts to address this issue and uplift these heroes through support and rehabilitation. Among these advocates for change are Swords to Plowshares and Insight Housing (formerly known as Berkeley Food and Housing Project). With the support of the Bob Woodruff Foundation, made possible by Craig Newmark Philanthropies, these organizations work tirelessly to bring shelter, solace, and a sense of belonging back to those who have sacrificed so much. 

Addressing Veteran Homelessness  

Whether it’s transitioning from service back to civilian life, or loss of housing resources from disabilities, veterans make up a significant portion of the unhouse population throughout the country. California boasts the largest veteran population in the United States to date. In Bay Area alone, over 2,100 veterans are experiencing homelessness as of 2022. 

Although government-funded initiatives like the ones provided by the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) offer substantial assistance, there still exists supplementary requirements and eligibility gaps that can be addressed through private funding. On a recent visit to San Francisco, we connected with two of our partners – Swords to Plowshares and Insight Housing– to witness firsthand the transformative power of private funding in addressing this issue. 

Insight Housing & Swords to Plowshare Success  

The mission of Insight Housing is to provide affordable housing, food, and rehabilitation resources for people all across the country. Specifically, their veteran program, Roads Home, provides outreach for unhoused vets. They have made an amazing impact on Bay Area veterans by building affordable and low-income housing units and participating in local outreach by offering food and other essential needs. Over the years, this organization has managed to uplift over 1,350 veterans, helping them find not just shelter, but a renewed sense of purpose. 

At the heart of Insight Housing’s mission lies its transitional housing programs, one of which is The Hope Center, dedicated in memory of former veteran resident and board member Theodore Allen Wilson. The Hope Center, in partnership with Berkeley Way Apartments, offers emergency shelter beds, transitional housing units for veterans who need short-term living, and permanent supportive housing, including affordable apartment units.

Another partner whose mission is to offer housing to veterans of the Bay Area is Swords to Plowshares. Founded in 1974 by Vietnam-era vets, Swords to Plowshares offer numerous services to aid San Francisco veterans’ health, food, and housing insecurities. At their drop-in service centers they offer critical and immediate care to help veterans with physical and mental health, and housing stability. Their staff provides services such as crisis intervention, either counseling or therapy, support groups, and referrals for in-house and community-based rehabilitation services. 

Expanding on their two drop-in centers, their newly established Veterans Community Center (VCC), has extended service hours and offers added resources that were not previously available such as: yoga, art therapy, hot meals throughout the day, and transportation. The VCC is a safe space for veterans to relax and connect with a supportive community that they can lean on.  

Beyond Sword to Plowshares’ service centers, they offer a wide range of resources from housing and employment assistance to counseling and legal aid.

Colleen Corliss, chief development officer of Swords to Plowshares, spoke with us about recent developments and continuing goals for Swords to Plowshares. This year, Swords to Plowshares successfully provided 105 new affordable and low-income housing units in Treasure Island, a former Naval base. The area is already home to 8,000 housing units specifically for veterans and their families. The continued goal for the organization with the provided funding is to improve the health and wellbeing of veterans experiencing the risk of homelessness, high-risk food insecurity, and mental and physical disabilities.   

Impact Private Funding Can Provide 

Providing basic needs such as shelter, especially for our veterans, is a vital endeavor and one that both organizations work tirelessly to collect funds to help. When asked how support from the Bob Woodruff Foundation has helped their work, both organizations mentioned that philanthropic funding from other organizations is a critical supplement to federal efforts. Organizations that receive private funding or grants allow them to make the foremost impact from immediate housing to permanent housing. 

Finding as many other programs as possible that share similar missions is valuable to both organizations. We spoke with Jason Espinoza, who is regional director of veteran services at Insight Housing, and who is a veteran himself. He shared, “It’s important to have as many available resources as you can find when working with programs that address these problems and find housing, especially when it comes to affordable housing.” 

In this case with the support of private funding, Insight Housing can continue the Roads Home program which specifically supports veterans and their families experiencing homelessness and food insecurities.  

The success of charitable partnerships in reshaping the homeless crisis is undeniable, reflected in the nationwide decline of 55% in the veteran homeless population account of private funding for organizations according to the VA. Corliss, acknowledges the invaluable role of private funding in propelling their initiatives forward, emphasizing its effectiveness in compliment with government funding. Without it, Swords to Plowshares wouldn’t have been able to establish the VCC with their expansive services to increase San Fransisco veteran’s safety, health, and well-being.  

A Community Effort  

It is shown that private investing and donations offer a more direct support that’s more immediate than government funding that can sometimes require repayment or is delayed through processes. It is a way to fill in the gaps with the essential government funding. For example, under some federal programs, case management is not fully covered by government grants in which private funding can suffice. Veterans who also may not be eligible for certain services can benefit from organizations backed with private grants. 

Moreover, private funding is more geared towards the mission than government funding is, which is more beneficial to the organization making their outreach. Espinoza supports this by mentioning that when the grantor’s foundation is built around a similar mission, the funding is more personal.  

Making a significant impact on an issue is a community effort from every available source. As our senior program officer at Bob Woodruff Foundation, Emily Krause, said on her visit with our Bay Area partners: 
“Ending veteran homelessness requires close collaboration between funders, community providers, and government agencies. The Bob Woodruff Foundation is proud to support partners like Insight Housing and Swords to Plowshares, who offer high-quality care and resources in their communities and always ensure that their work remains centered on the veterans they serve.”

There’s no denying that the unyielding dedication of organizations like Swords to Plowshares and Insight Housing stand as a testament to the transformative power of community-driven initiatives in alleviating veteran homelessness. Through collaborative efforts with partners, they not only provide shelter and support, but also rekindle hope and dignity for our veterans.