Last year Ed Harrison had hip replacement surgery, and before long he was walking on his left leg again. Then all of a sudden he wasn’t. Harrison fell and broke his leg in two places and wound up back in the hospital, then in a Groton nursing home and rehab center for recovery.
When his treatment there ended, the 59-year-old U.S. Navy veteran, who served during the Desert Storm era of the 1990s, had no home to return to.
He took advantage of the “respite” care that the Homeless Hospitality Center in New London offers to those without a home who have left a medical facility and require continuing care that typically would be provided by a visiting nurse, spouse or other family member.
Maintaining a 40-bed shelter that includes seven “respite” beds, the Center, established in 2006, has a dozen employees and serves more than 600 clients annually, executive director Cathy Zall said. Funding through a grant from the state Department of Housing pays 20 percent of the facility’s budget.
Zall said the center is fortunate that private funding has grown in recent years, because the state contribution has fallen to $94,000 from about $100,000 five years ago. Staff earn modest wages, ranging from $13 to $18 per hour.
Clients who are chronically homeless or struggle with mental health or addiction issues make up about 30 percent of the clientele, Zall said. “Now about 70 percent are people who were never homeless before and probably never will be again,” she said, “but they’ve lost a job or seen a relationship break up so they had to leave where they were living.”
Harrison stayed three months at the main shelter, but as a military veteran he qualified for admission to a longer-term accommodation in a building on Mountain Avenue, where only qualified veterans are admitted. He shares a second-floor apartment with a roommate.
“It’s like night and day – it’s so much better here,” he said. Twice a day, a bus takes residents to a local soup kitchen. Staff at the center have helped him apply for food stamps – the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program known as SNAP – and Social Security Disability Benefits.
Case worker Mirca Reyes, herself a disabled veteran, said the center is moving to add five more beds specifically for homeless veterans by this fall.