When we lost our friend Jon W. Paulson in 2016, we knew we had to cement his legacy with something monumental. Jon was a Vietnam veteran who served on the Swords to Plowshares Board of Directors and Advisory Board for over 20 years. He was fiercely committed to helping his fellow veterans. Swords to Plowshares worked closely with his loving wife, Dianne, in developing a project to uplift our housing site in the Presidio to preserve Jon’s legacy and continue the impact he made on the lives of Bay Area veterans. After a 6-year-long process, all improvements on the buildings have been completed and the Jon W. Paulson Veterans Community welcomes a new era for its residents to live in dignity.
Swords to Plowshares opened the Presidio housing site as the Veterans Academy in 2000. It was the first veteran-specific permanent housing program in the United States. The buildings were converted from two Army barracks into 108 units where veterans would not just have a place to live, but also receive on-site supportive services such as case management, therapy and counseling, and communal activities. This model of care prioritizes the needs of the veterans, many of whom have disabilities and health conditions that challenge mobility. Along with this, the location of the Presidio is integral to the recovery process of the site’s residents. Many were once living on the streets or in blighted areas of the city. Having the opportunity to build a home in a peaceful national park setting has provided residents with histories of chronic homelessness and substance abuse the opportunity to heal and thrive.
Over the years, the need for renovations at the housing site became apparent. The most obvious was the lack of elevators. The 3-story flight of stairs in each building made it difficult or impossible for some residents to leave their rooms. The 2016 rehabilitation project motivated by Jon W. Paulson’s memory aimed to install elevators, build new roofing, and beautify the buildings. The COVID-19 pandemic delayed a lot of the initial progress, and the elevators were officially usable in Fall of 2022.
With all the project goals completed, we are able to celebrate the work put in to making this housing site more accessible. Many of its residents see their current home as the place they will live in for the rest of their lives, and these improvements were integral to ensuring we maintain a space that respects and addresses each veterans’ needs. Along with the renovations, a bronze statue by sculptor and veteran Rolf Kriken will stand outside in memory of Jon Paulson and the lives lost in Vietnam. There are many supporters, advocates, and donors who made this possible, and we thank all who had a hand in making the Jon W. Paulson Veterans Community a better home for its community.