SF groups help veterans with jobs, permanent housing


On Sunday, the second of what will be an ongoing, semi-annual "Tech Meets Vets Hackathon" series was held at Adobe Systems. High tech entrepreneurs helped veterans with military technical training transition those skills into the Bay Area's high tech industry. And right across town, veterans who have been struggling for years to find a permanent place to live, are finally getting a home.

"That's why I'm here, to get the skills that they're looking for," former Marine Mark Rettman said. Rettman was one of 40 veterans who took part in the hackathon at Adobe. The program is the brainchild of Katherine Webster. She says she saw the need to provide transitional help to vets who had technical training in the service, but find it hard to get jobs in the private sector with the skills they have, "I believe they can do many of the jobs today, they just need a little bit of training," Webster said.

She paired mentors who already work in the tech field with returning vets looking for one of the estimated 8,000 high tech jobs available in the Bay Area. It's been difficult for many of them, like former Marine Corp network engineer Khalis Ibrahim. He served two tours in Afghanistan and one in Iraq, "I've gone as far as four interviews and they're just like, 'well I'm sorry, you're not what we're looking for,'" Ibrahim said. He's been told by employers that his military technical training is outdated and just not transferable. The group VetsInTech is trying to bridge that technical gap.

While some veterans are struggling to find a job, others are left looking for a place to live. The group Swords to Plowshares is about to open its new Veteran's Commons facility on Otis Street. 75 chronically homeless and disabled vets who are older and vulnerable will soon be able to call it home.

"For as long as they want to for the rest of their life, this is permanent housing," said Leon Winston, Chief Operating Officer of Swords to Plowshares. He says it has taken six years and $30 million to make this a reality for homeless vets. There are more than 60,000 homeless vets in the U.S., according to the Office of Veterans Affairs.

Ronald Jones served six years in the Army and has been homeless on and off for 12 years. Soon he'll move into the commons and off the homeless roles, "This is the best Veteran's Day gift I could ever get."

Jones and others who move into the Veterans Commons will get medical care, counseling, camaraderie, and of course a place to call home.

Veterans Commons is the first housing for veterans to open in San Francisco since 2000. Swords to Plowshares will be holding an open house there at 150 Otis Street on Monday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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