Veterans center in El Cajon helps homeless get back on their feet

February 9, 2017 3:19 PM

Erika Cervantes

(El Cajon) A local organization is working to end veteran homelessness in San Diego. Veterans of America Southwest is operating a center in El Cajon that's helping veterans improve their lives.

The Hawley Veterans Services Center has beds for 20-veterans and the men currently in the program say it's given them a new lease on life.

Howard Collins is putting the pieces of his life back together. He's lived at the Hawley Veterans Services Center since April 2016.

"It taught me self sufficiency and how to survive," says Howard Collins, who is living at the Hawley Veterans Services Center, "It gave me a sense of well being and a sense of urgency."

Collins served in the Marines for 12-years and is a veteran of Operation Desert Storm. Last year, he was working as a diesel truck driver, living out of his truck, when he started having heart problems.

"Sleeping in the back of the truck wasn't a very good place to recover from after getting stents placed in your heart," adds Collins.

He was referred to the Hawley Veterans Services Center and Collins say his life has turned around. The veteran has his own room, works with a case manager and receives counseling on healthcare, daily living and finances.

"It gave me a sense that no matter how down you think you are, you can always get back up, get it together, and go forward again," says Collins.

Collins already has a job and is apartment hunting. He says he'll be moving out of the center soon and he hopes other veterans who need help, come to the center.

"If they really need help they should come check it out," according to Collins, "Like I said it's a very nice place and the people who work here help you out a lot."

The Hawley Veterans Services Center opened in 2013. It's part of the Volunteers of America Southwest which operates 22 programs around Southern California. The organization uses outreach and referrals from veterans affairs and 211.