Thoughts & Opinions | Feb 2024

To better support Bay Area veterans, local nonprofits bridge gaps

By Ashley Rodwick, Senior Program Officer at the Koret Foundation, and Calleene Egan, CEO of Insight Housing

A veteran client with his case managers in front of permanent housing that Insight Housing helped him obtain.


For too many Veterans, returning home comes with significant barriers to opportunity. They often face multiple challenges as they transition back into civilian life, especially when it comes to caring for their health, launching their careers, and supporting their families. This issue is particularly pertinent to California, which is home to over 1,600,000 veterans – the largest Veteran population of any state. More than 20,000 Veterans live in San Francisco County alone. It is crucial that we build an ecosystem that supports Veterans through this difficult transition as well as later in their lives when new challenges arise. 

As a program officer at a San Francisco philanthropy, the Koret Foundation, and a leader in a Berkeley-based housing nonprofit, Insight Housing, we have seen firsthand what on-the-ground nonprofits can achieve for Veterans when they have support from local philanthropies and the larger community.

Many community members who witness the prevalence of Veteran homelessness feel as though the problem is too big to tackle, while others look at the size and scope of the Department of Veterans Affairs and think “we won’t make a difference in that space” and choose to give to other charitable causes. In actuality, the VA has made great strides in reducing Veteran homelessness nationwide, but government funding to support Bay Area Veterans is most effective when complemented by support from philanthropies and the local community. Philanthropic funders and everyday Californians can step in and fill vital gaps, making success possible where there might otherwise be delays, hurdles, or roadblocks.

While there are some challenges that are nearly universal for veterans, each individual needs a different kind of support, so on-the-ground organizations must be agile and flexible in the support they offer to meet everyone’s needs. Bay Area Veterans may require transitional housing, rental assistance, or home modifications to support disability needs. They may need transportation support to attend medical appointments or job interviews. They may need help drafting a resume or preparing for a job interview, or financial counseling to understand how to budget their income and have a stable foundation to build from. Housing stability often goes hand-in-hand with employment, to ensure that Veterans can remain in their homes once they find a place to live. 

Locally-based nonprofits, when supported by philanthropy, are in a unique position to understand and offer the right support at the right time that could make a crucial difference between someone regaining stability or remaining on the street. Many of these supports do come from government sources, but with each veteran’s complex and unique situation, there are often gaps in support that are best filled by private philanthropy and community support. 

Together, our respective organizations, the Koret Foundation and Insight Housing (formerly Berkeley Food and Housing Project) are working together on the Roads Home Veteran project to build on government services and help Veterans both access and maintain housing that is affordable, sustainable, and provides opportunities to thrive. Insight Housing covers the entire spectrum of housing needs by providing emergency shelter, rapid re-housing, transitional housing, and permanent supportive housing. They also offer wraparound services to ensure that veterans can keep their housing, including case management, health care navigation, temporary financial assistance, job search assistance, and interview prep. Ensuring that our Veterans have a bed to sleep in is imperative, but our support cannot stop there. It is also our duty to ensure that they have the resources and support necessary to remain in stable housing long-term.

Take Tanya’s story, for example. Tanya, a local Veteran, has a family with several children. Describing her experience with Insight Housing’s Roads Home program, she said, “We were connected through the VA after becoming homeless and we were staying at a hospital. Everything happened so quickly, we were there for only a few weeks. They were great. I have no complaints and we’re so grateful.”

Tanya continued, “We got here [to our new home] in August and are still getting settled. When we all walked in the door on that first day, I was going to cry. All of us were like ‘Oh my God, this is amazing.’ The place is just stunning. We’re in San Francisco in Park Merced. We couldn’t ask for anything better.”

A veteran client with Insight Housing


Housing is of course only one component of the impact that local partnerships can make when it comes to addressing funding gaps. For example, the GI bill only covers 36 months of education benefits and is notoriously slow in getting the funds to qualified students. This forces them to scramble for basic needs in the meantime. Koret’s funding supports emergency needs, laptops, technology, books–those essential components to higher education success outside of tuition at places like the Foothill- De Anza community college district Veterans Resource Centers. And when it comes to workforce development, the government offers many training programs, but Veterans also need help translating their military experience into civilian terms and roles, ideally in cohorts where they feel safe and understood. Nonprofit grantees, like the Mission Continues, Goodwill, and Swords to Plowshares are able to provide these crucial services. 

Bay Area Veterans Affairs healthcare centers are top-notch, but Veterans are living farther and farther away due to housing affordability and can’t afford to travel the great distances to get to appointments and follow-up care, creating a significant need for affordable local healthcare alternatives that benefit from philanthropic investment from foundations such as ours.

We invite and encourage funders to expand their support for grantees serving local veterans and consider ways to foster a network of comprehensive support services, while community members across our region should make support for Veteran housing a priority of their charitable giving. Local partnerships, as modeled by Koret’s ongoing support of Insight Housing, provide a unique degree of flexibility and timeliness.

While philanthropies like Koret can have an impact on a large scale, in this effort to support our Veterans, we each have a critical role to play as individuals and community members. By supporting organizations working on-the-ground to create opportunity for local Veterans, you, too, can bring down barriers. Sacrificing even a little bit can be the difference between a roof over their heads, food on the table and a fulfilling career for those who have sacrificed so much for our country.