Our History

In 1974, Swords to Plowshares started with a single grant and a small location on Valencia Street. Now, over 40 years later with an annual budget of $19 million, we are still doing the same thing we set out to do — heal the wounds of war, restore dignity, hope, and self-sufficiency to all veterans in need, and to prevent and end homelessness and poverty among veterans.

From the beginning we’ve accomplished our mission by providing wrap-around services to veterans in our community, and advocating for improved care and services for all veterans. We have been at the forefront of the veterans’ rights movement since 1974, when six Vietnam veterans, frustrated with the inadequate system of care for veterans, founded Swords to Plowshares.

Swords to Plowshares is nationally recognized for our model programs, expert leadership and continued dedication to fighting on behalf of our nation’s veterans. Here are a few reasons why…

1974 – 1984: The Decade of Neglect

The public did not want to be reminded of the Vietnam War and could not separate their negative feelings about the war from the warriors. Vietnam veterans were not only rejected by the public, but also by groups like Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, and the Department of Veterans Affairs. This was a time when policy affecting veterans was controlled by these agencies which blatantly neglected Vietnam veterans and depicted them as villains.

  • 1974: Swords to Plowshares is established by six Vietnam veterans concerned with the unmet needs of their peers within the community and VA
  • 1976: Swords to Plowshares develops tailored services for military discharge upgrades, working with incarcerated veterans and providing employment, training and educational assistance
  • 1978: Swords to Plowshares becomes the first organization in 32 years to be certified by the VA to represent veterans seeking benefits
  • 1979: Swords to Plowshares wins one of the first PTSD cases in the country
  • 1980: Community-based organizations serving veterans begin to rise up all over the country to help Vietnam veterans
  • 1980: PTSD is finally recognized. Prior to this time it was called “Post-Vietnam Syndrome”
  • 1983: The Vietnam Wall is built in Washington, DC, giving overdue recognition to Vietnam veterans
  • 1980s: Michael Blecker, Swords to Plowshares’ Executive Director, is asked to serve on the Agent Orange Advisory Board
  • 1984: Swords to Plowshares’ attorneys helped develop the Agent Orange Self-Help Guide and served on the National Agent Orange Settlement Advisory Board

1985 – 1995: America is Awakened to the Hardships of Vietnam Veterans

The American public began discussing the Vietnam War and made concerted efforts to understand the struggles veterans faced during combat and coming home.

Also, during this time public funding allowed community-based organizations to provide housing to homeless veterans. Programs for homeless veterans began to build momentum and support with the help of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans.

  • 1985: Ten years after the end of the Vietnam War, “Welcome Home” parades begin springing up to honor veterans
  • 1986: Swords to Plowshares establishes the Health and Social Services department thanks to public funding made available to community-based organizations
  • 1988: Swords to Plowshares began its first transitional housing program and purchased a housing site to operate the program in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco
  • 1990: Michael Blecker and other advocates found the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV)
  • 1990s: The establishment of NCHV’s advocacy led to a broad understanding of the growing population of homeless veterans and prompts the VA to begin contracting with community-based organizations to offer transitional housing programs and emergency housing
  • 1992: Swords opened DeMontfort Street Transitional Housing Program for chronically homeless and mentally ill veterans
  • 1990s: Stand Downs began happening throughout California, enabling groups like Swords to Plowshares to reach out the homeless veteran population and provide services on location

1995 – 2005: Veteran Service Organizations Began Maturing and Gaining Recognition

Prior to the 1980s, the VFW and American Legion were the only veteran service organizations with any clout. The efforts of homeless veteran advocates, the availability of public funding, and the new generation of Gulf War veterans all helped to create inroads for groups like Swords to Plowshares.

  • 1995: Swords to Plowshares and four California organizations found the California Association of Veteran Service Agencies to improve services for California veterans and educate our communities
  • 1996: The Gulf War Self-Help Guide is established by veteran advocates, including Swords to Plowshares’ staff attorneys
  • 1996: Michael Blecker is appointed to the Congressional Commission on Servicemembers and Veterans Transition Assistance
  • 1997: Veteran advocates expose military records that prove the military’s knowledge of the harmful effects of depleted uranium
  • 2000: Swords to Plowshares opened our first permanent supportive housing site, the Veterans Academy, in the Presidio National Park for over 100 homeless veterans with disabilities
  • 2000: Swords to Plowshares opened our Treasure Island Transitional Housing Program—moving away from blighted areas of the city—for 60 veterans with disabilities and mental health needs
  • 2001: Swords to Plowshares’ Frontline Drop-in Center receives the Center for Mental Health Services Homeless Programs Branch Exemplary Program Award
  • 2002: Governor’s report names Swords to Plowshares as one of the best state programs serving the homeless
  • 2002: Michael Blecker is appointed to the National Advisory Committee on Homeless Veterans
  • 2003: Swords to Plowshares began to recognize the specific needs of veterans returning from the Iraq War and identifying opportunities for growth

2005 – Present: Lessons Learned and Preventative Care for OIF/OEF Veterans

In the years following 9/11, services for veterans and their families began expanding all over the country to respond to the needs of Post-9/11 veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

In addition, we as a nation began reflecting upon the mistakes made when Vietnam veterans returned from war, and we implemented policies based on those lessons learned. Today, Swords to Plowshares continually works to improve our programs and services to help veterans make a successful transition from combat to our communities.

  • 2005: Swords to Plowshares establishes the Institute for Veteran Policy (IVP) to meet the needs of Post-9/11 veterans and improve the systems of care for all veterans
  • 2006: IVP staff members begin conducting focus groups in California to identify gaps in services for military, veterans and families
  • 2008: Swords to Plowshares develops our Combat to Community® cultural competency training program aimed at police officers, clinicians, employers, and service providers
  • 2009: Swords to Plowshares expands Employment and Training services in the East Bay and the San Francisco War Memorial Building
  • 2009: Swords to Plowshares establishes the Women Veterans Program
  • 2010: Swords to Plowshares launches its Veterans Pro Bono Program
  • 2012: Swords to Plowshares opened permanent supportive housing for veteran families on Treasure Island
  • 2012: Swords to Plowshares opens 75 units of permanent supportive housing for homeless veterans with disabilities at Veterans Commons, a historical site located at 150 Otis Street in San Francisco
  • 2013: Swords to Plowshares expands in the East Bay to offer housing assistance services to veterans and veteran families
  • 2014: Swords to Plowshares begins operating a Safe Haven stabilization housing program for the “hardest-to-serve” veterans at the Fairfax Hotel
  • 2014: Swords to Plowshares begins operating 250 Kearny Street, a permanent supportive housing program for 130 chronically homeless veterans with disabilities
  • December 24, 2014: Swords to Plowshares officially turns 40 years old!
  • 2015: Swords to Plowshares opens a new Drop-in Center in Oakland to expand services to East Bay veterans and their families