Degree: MSW, social work, College of Public Health, 2011
Occupation: Veteran crusader
Between one-fourth and one-fifth of the nation’s homeless population — about 130,000 to 200,000 individuals — is made up of men and women who have served in the U.S. armed forces.*To Cara Colantuono, CPH ’11, that statistic is not simply startling; it is damning.
“I’m an American,” she says bluntly, “and I think our veterans are the soul of America. To deny them access to housing is — ” she pauses, choosing her words carefully. “Ridiculous.”
An advocate for homeless veterans, Colantuono supervises a veteran-based transitional housing site for Impact Services Corp., an organization in Philadelphia that provides employment training, supportive housing and community economic development resources to those returning from war. In January 2012 — while still employed by Impact Services — she launched Support Homeless Veterans (SHV), an advocacy organization that aims to raise awareness of chronically homeless veterans and to offer community based solutions for housing and mental health.
Colantuono’s organization advocates for veterans with dual diagnoses — those who suffer simultaneously from long-term substance addiction and conditions such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. For many homeless veterans, transitional housing is just that — a transition to independence. But for veterans with dual diagnoses, it does not always work. Once they leave such housing, they lack the psychological and medical support they need to function independently and end up back on the street.
Colantuono says she witnesses that problem at Impact Services, which works to help individuals find independent-living situations. “I look at some of these men we serve, wondering where they’ll go next,” she says. Colantuono’s experiences at Impact motivated her to create an alternate form of housing through SHV.
“What I’ve found is that classic military camaraderie — along with being a part of a community with other veterans and staff members who genuinely care — is what keeps them sober and sane,” Colantuono says. “So I watched them help each other and thought, ‘What if there was a housing program that would bring small groups of vets together under a trauma-informed model in permanent housing?’”
Her first home is in its planning stages, with completion projected for 2013. It will be an eight-bed home for veterans on fixed incomes who have been sober for eight to 12 months, featuring onsite counseling services for mental health, rehabilitation and more. Colantuono plans to call it Andy’s Place, in honor of her recently passed paternal grandfather, a World War II marine corporal. —Alix Gerz, SMC ’03, CLA ’07
To learn more about Support Homeless Veterans, visit supporthomelessveterans.org.
*National Coalition for the Homeless. Homeless Veterans. September 2009.
View this article in its original context at http://www.temple.edu/templemag/pdf/12fall.pdf, page 46.