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Innovative program focuses on homeless trauma

There is one thing every homeless Veteran has in common: the experience of trauma.

Sensitive to the fact that homelessness itself is traumatizing, a unique program at Boston VA is using the foundation of trauma-informed care to better assist Veterans experiencing homelessness.

We invited three guests from Boston VA to the Ending Veteran Homelessness podcast to explore how their Care Coordination, Advocacy, Treatment and Connections to Housing (CATCH) program is empowering the Veterans they serve.

Using trauma-informed principles

Spearheaded by Karen Guthrie, co-coordinator and supervisor of CATCH, the program hired staff who shared trauma-informed care values and were committed to learning and practicing the model. They worked as a team to develop a mission, vision and values, applying the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) trauma-informed care principles of:


Trustworthiness and transparency

Peer support

Collaboration and mutuality


Voice and choice

Cultural, historical and gender issues

CATCH prioritizes the most vulnerable Veterans for admission. Participation is voluntary with no commitment or intake requirements. Team members actively contact Veterans who may be eligible rather than waiting for referrals.

“Veterans get to work with our entire team, which gives them voice and choice in how they engage with our services, and that’s something that makes our program a little bit different,” said David Martino, co-coordinator of CATCH.

CATCH mirrors VA’s new One Team approach to homelessness, a model of collaboration that seeks to break down silos within VA so we can be nimble in our response to Veterans in need.

A change in culture

Trauma-informed care is an evolution of organizational culture rather than a new procedure. “An underlying belief about the trauma-informed approach to care is that every person is their own best expert on their life,” added Guthrie.

When working with Veterans, team members are encouraged to look past symptoms of trauma, labels and diagnoses to explore why people behave the way they do. They also consider that their own experiences and approach to the world are important to the dynamic.

“We can inadvertently take power away from another by labeling, defining and categorizing them,” said Guthrie. “This is particularly retraumatizing to individuals that have had their power taken away from them.”

Those suffering from trauma can feel comfortable accessing this system of care that is sensitive to their experiences and needs. In CATCH, Veterans don’t have to surrender power over their own care and decisions to receive help.

The support of a peer

Peer specialists like CATCH’s David Chesley are also critical to the success of a trauma-informed approach because they bring a similar lived experience to the picture.

Chesley, a Veteran who has struggled with substance abuse, posttraumatic stress disorder and homelessness, is able to build a unique connection with Veterans and cut through the bureaucracy of navigating a large organization.

“Through VA programming, I was able to get to where I am now. My role is to share my experiences, to build mutuality with the Veterans we serve and to bring hope and inspire others to show that it is possible,” he said.

Learn about VA programs 

If you are a Veteran who is homeless or at risk for homelessness, call the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans at 877-4AID-VET (877-424-3838).

Visit the VA Homeless Programs website to learn about housing initiatives and other programs for Veterans exiting homelessness. 

Check out the Ending Veteran Homelessness podcast to learn more about what VA is doing about Veteran homelessness. 

Learn how to get involved with housing homeless Veterans.

Subscribe to the Homeless Programs Office newsletter to receive monthly updates about programs and supportive services for Veterans experiencing or at risk of homelessness.

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