What do you do for a servicemember, when they’re no longer a servicemember?

“Thank you for your service.” This all-too-familiar refrain is often obligatorily recited once someone’s status as a veteran is disclosed. The message meant to convey is often dependent on context. For example, you see a soldier in uniform, “Thank you for your service”; or you see their retiree card, “Thank you for your service”; How about when your barista has their branch of service embroidered on their apron, “thank you for your service”; Finally, you see the disheveled-looking man in a wheelchair, his dog by his side, holding a handwritten sign saying “Veteran, Please Help” “______”. What do you do for a soldier when they stop being a soldier, and what do you do for a former servicemember when they have nowhere else to go?

In 2019, there were 608 veterans experiencing homelessness in San Francisco, compared to 684 in 2017. Eighty-one percent (81%) of veterans surveyed during the last Point-in-Time Count were unsheltered. Many US veterans experience conditions that place them at increased risk of homelessness, things like PTSD, traumatic brain injury, sexual assault, and substance abuse. The most frequently cited cause of homelessness among veterans was job loss. Veterans experiencing homelessness are more likely to live on the street, rather than in shelters, and will often remain on the streets for extended periods of time. Despite being only 6% of the overall population of San Francisco, Black/African American people make up 33% of veterans experiencing homelessness, whereas 20% identify as Latinx. Often, this means BIPOC are the majority of veterans seen experiencing unsheltered homelessness. San Francisco has long been a beacon for LGBTQ+ servicemembers; unfortunately, this also means LGBTQ San Francisco veterans are more than twice as likely to experiencing homelessness.

Given the number of veterans experiencing unsheltered homelessness, the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing is expanding its support of our non-profit partner, Swords to Plowshares. Their mission is to heal the wounds of war, to restore dignity, hope, and self-sufficiency to all veterans in need, and to prevent and end homelessness and poverty among veterans.

HSH’s support entails a new $2 million investment over the next two years to dramatically expand services at the Veteran’s drop-in center. With this money, Swords to Plowshares will be empowered to add staffing and flexible financial resources to help veterans on the verge of homelessness identify solutions and potentially avoid homelessness all together.

Swords to Plowshares, with the support of HSH, operates close to 500 units of Permanent Supportive Housing, manage a veterans access point, and provide problem solving services, which keeps over 3,000 Bay Area veterans from sleeping on the streets.

We are proud of our veterans, and our veteran-serving partners. With our added $2 million investment, we are saying with our whole hearts “Thank you for your service.”

The Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing strives to make homelessness in San Francisco rare, brief, and one time.