Penn State alumna’s nonprofit harbors homeless veterans

MEDIA, Pa. — After earning her bachelor's degree in human development and family studies from the Brandywine campus, Penn State alumna Cara Colantuono went on to start Support Homeless Veterans (SHV) — a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending homelessness among U.S. veterans in the Philadelphia region.

“I believe that our veterans are the heart and soul of this nation,” Colantuono said. “Thanking veterans for their service isn’t enough. We can’t expect men and women who have spent years in military systems to simply adjust to civilian life — it’s really up to our communities to care for them.”

After completing her Penn State degree in 2007, Colantuono enrolled at Temple University and earned her master’s degree in social work while employed at Impact Services, a Philadelphia-based organization that provides employment, training, supportive housing, and community development services to people in need.

In her role at Impact Services, Colantuono worked with veterans in the organization’s transitional housing program who had dual diagnoses, meaning they suffered from drug or alcohol addiction as well as conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder. She noticed that while temporary transitional housing programs were a great resource, they often fell short in fully supporting veterans with dual diagnoses.

“Once the veterans left transitional housing and went out on their own they would relapse because they just weren’t ready to be alone,” she said. “Sometimes transitional housing isn’t enough for veterans with more complicated backgrounds — they need more.”

From that need Colantuono founded SHV, which provides long-term, family-oriented living for homeless veterans in the Philadelphia region.

“We provide an alternative housing option for veterans in need,” Colantuono said. “Other options for housing include transitional programs, shelters and boarding homes. None of these offer the family atmosphere that’s really required to combat ongoing mental health and addiction issues.”

“Camaraderie is a major part of being in the military. They join the military because they would die for their country — they stay because they would die for one another. The same theory applies here. The veterans in our homes support one another.”

Aside from housing support, SHV organizes other programs, such as “Code: Red, White and Blue,” that supply veterans with hygiene products, clothing, food and other goods donated by community members.

Since its founding in 2011, SHV has housed more than 100 veterans and served approximately 750 through its other programs. Currently, the nonprofit has six active homes that support 22 veterans.

Shortly after launching SHV, Colantuono began a job at Abington – Jefferson Health as a medical social worker. There, she worked with patients to create safe discharge plans and helped them navigate complex healthcare and insurance systems. On Jan. 3, she started a new position as the social work supervisor at Paoli Hospital.