Advocacy group: Veterans homelessness is growing in RI

WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — Veterans are ending up without homes in Rhode Island more and more, according to organizers of Operation Stand Down Rhode Island.

Friday at a “resources fair” the organization held at Warwick Mall, executive director Erik Wallin said the problem is growing rather than shrinking. In the last year, Operation Stand Down has housed more than 300 veterans through its various programs, he said. The program was founded 23 years ago to help Vietnam-era veterans who’d been living on the streets.

Robert Boisvert, a Navy veteran who lives in West Warwick, enlisted when he was 17, and after his service, found himself homeless and sleeping in a car. He considers himself lucky: “You feel like you’re not wanted when you can’t get help,” he said. “Then, all of a sudden, these people appear out of nowhere to help you out.”

“One out of every three homeless individuals is a veteran,” said Wallin. It’s “an amazing statistic,” he added, “because only 1 percent of Americans serve in the military.”

Holly Witherell, a Warwick resident, served in the Navy for 12 years, and was also homeless after she came home.

It took Holly reaching out — for her to turn from being homeless to homeowner, and buying her own home.

“It’s just a process that every veteran has to go through,” she said. “Some veterans don’t realize that those programs are actually out there for them, and it’s just a matter of reaching out to all the veterans to get them the services that they need.

Operation Stand Down also offers employment training and placement among its resources.