At first glance, the Errera Community Care Center in West Haven, Connecticut, looks like any other VA building. People come and go, and shuttles drop off and pick up people at regular intervals. But inside, VA staff carry out a vital mission, perhaps the most important mission of all: They work to give struggling Veterans hope.

The mission of the center is to enable individuals struggling with mental illness, substance abuse and/or homelessness to live successfully within their communities. The goal is to maximize independence through recovery and rehabilitation plans designed to meet individual Veteran needs.

The Tree of Inspiration. Veterans are invited to join the community by adding a leaf containing something that motivates them or something they are grateful for.

Leading this charge in the fight against Veteran homelessness is Director Debbie Deegan. “We believe we were the first state in the country to end Veteran homelessness,” she said. “Our homeless services are vast and cover the entire state of Connecticut.”

For Navy Veteran Erla Lanier, the center has been a lifesaver. “This program has changed my life entirely,” Lanier said. “I went from being homeless to being able to get my own apartment. The programs here helped me not only get housing, but also access to group therapy and disability benefits.”

“They helped me so much I try to give back.”

Lanier, who has been getting service from the center since 2008, now does what she can to help other struggling Veterans. “They’ve helped me so much that I try to give back where I can. I like working in the kitchen serving lunch.”

The Healthcare for Homeless Veterans (HCHV) at the center offers housing services to Veterans who are homeless, at risk of homelessness, or who are economically challenged. These services include emergency housing, traditional housing and permanent supportive housing.

The center takes a whole-health approach to treating Veterans, focusing on conventional and complementary approaches, in addition to its prevention and treatment programs that revolve around nutrition, exercise, and body and mind.

“Many hospitals do have these types of programs, but having them coordinated under one roof makes a huge difference. It makes communications clearer and we’re not repeating service in two different places. This also allows our staff to really communicate and focus on the Veteran’s needs,” said Deegan.

Web of Hope

A sign on the wall in the center reads:

“I invite anyone who walks by this Web of Hope to add their own fabric piece to the web. When you tie, knot, braid or weave a new bit of fabric, you are adding to the community piece. When adding your piece to the Web of Hope, mindfully think of a note of hope or positivity for yourself, for a friend, a fellow Veteran or anyone else in your life.

“Once you add to the web, you have begun to manifest and pass that thought on to whoever may be in need. Which fabric scrap calls to you to be added to the Web of Hope today?”

Those eligible for Healthcare for Homeless Veterans include Veterans who are homeless or at risk of homelessness with at least one day of active duty in the military. They must have a discharge status of Honorable, General Under Honorable, Other than Honorable, or Bad Conduct via Special Court Martial.

Any VA provider can refer a Veteran by placing a homeless consult, or the Veteran can drop in during the clinic hours.

By Russ Tippets, USCG (Ret.), is a public affairs officer for the VA New England Healthcare System

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Published on May. 26, 2022

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