Providence, R.I. – In Johnston today veterans will gather to dedicate a refurbished farmhouse as transitional housing for homeless female veterans. Homelessness among women vets is now a faster growing problem than among male veterans.
Dianne DeLomba shows off her new apartment with the pride of a homebody who hasn't had a place of her own in over a month.
"This is my living room, right here as you walk in," she says. "It's hard wood floors. There's two recliners, a leather couch, an oriental rug "
The unexpected expense of a car crash caused her to lose her old apartment. Now she's the first resident of a two year transitional apartment house run by Operation Standown, a program for homeless vets.
"It means home to me," DeLomba says. "I feel the spirit of home. This isn't a house."
DeLomba is 53 and has been homeless off and on since being honorably discharged from the Rhode Island Air National Guard in 1977. She has a long list of mental and physical problems
including bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsiveness, late stage kidney disease and diabetes.
"The problem seems to be increasing," says Dr. Bill Carr, a psychologist who manages homeless programs for the Veterans Administration in Rhode Island. He says they're seeing more and more women like DeLomba.
"If you go back to fiscal year 2005, only 1.2 percent of the homeless veterans were female," he explains. "This last year 6.5 percent were females. So there's definitely a trend for seeing an increasing number of homeless veterans."
According to the Veterans Administration, while the overall number of homeless vets has been going down, the number of female homeless veterans has been steadily increasing. Nationwide, 6,500 women who have served their country have nowhere to live, and unlike their male counterparts, many have children. The reasons for homelessness among male and female vets are the same says Carr.
"Well there are more females in the military now than there have been in the past," Carr says. "The percent of active duty females is 15 percent now, which is an increase over previous years. And I think other facts play a role like the economy and substance abuse and like mental health problems which are extremely common among returning veterans."
The Johnston residence is a two year program in which the women pay 30 percent of their salary and the Veterans Administration picks up the rest of the cost of housing. Its manager, Operation Standown director Al Signorelli, says it can accommodate six women -- two in each of three apartments.
"It's two years," says Signorelli. "So I would say within six months of entering the program the staff is looking for other alternatives on a permanent basis. Hopefully, we'll have something develop prior to two years so we can offer permanent housing."
DeLomba, who has been couch hopping with friends since her June 17 car crash, says having a home has restored her self confidence.
"I'm very proud," she says with tears. "I had lost my pride after the military and I'm finally getting it back again. And it feels good."
The old renovated farmhouse DeLomba now calls home will be dedicated today in memory of Holly Charette, a Rhode Island native and the first female Marine to die in Iraq.