For six years, homelessness was a way of life for U.S. Air Force veteran Colleen Curato, until last October, when she found transitional housing through Operation Stand Down Rhode Island.
“This is the first time I found housing,” said Curato, who suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. “I just kind of bounced around. I stayed with friends. There were a couple of times I did sleep in a tent.”
Only when she connected with Operation Stand Down did Curato find resources, including military disability income, that enable her to search realistically for an apartment, she said. She lives in the Lance Corporal Holly Charette House in Johnston, a transitional house for homeless female veterans.
Though just shy of 50 (her birthday is Nov. 19), Curato is a part of the homeless-veterans population in Rhode Island that is increasing, particularly those aged 50 and older.
According to Eric Hirsch, a sociology professor at Providence College and vice president of the board of directors for the Rhode Island Coalition for Homelessness, statistics culled from the state’s Homeless Management Information System R.I. show increases from 2010 to 2012 in the number of veterans who are homeless, the number of veterans who are 50 or older, and the number of veterans at age 50 who have become homeless for the first time.
Between 2010 and 2012 the general increase in homelessness for people over 50 rose 34 percent, from 632 to 845, according to a report on the aging homeless population released on Nov. 4 by Crossroads Rhode Island.
The overall increase for the 50 and older population – along with the increase among homeless veterans – gives the incidence of homelessness added urgency, Hirsch said.
“We definitely have seen more veterans eating [at shelters] here,” added Eileen Hayes, CEO of Amos House, a Providence-based social-services organization.
Between 2 percent and 5 percent of the 200 men who use Amos House’s 90-day program, which has 35 beds for men and women, are veterans, Hayes said. Amos House has 12 buildings that can house as many as 130 people, including veterans, as well as those in the 90-day program, she said. A third program helps mothers and children.