LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — The story of a Las Vegas double amputee veteran on the brink of homelessness ends with him finally being housed, though personnel who helped house him said it is increasingly difficult to do the same for others in his position.
Richard Romano, 81, said he was evicted from the apartment complex he called home for 13 years after his caretaker, who was not licensed, stole around $5,000 from him and disappeared in October. This was nearly five decades after serving in the Navy as part of the Cuban Missile Crisis and losing both of his legs.
“Believe it or not, (the caregiver) started out doing really well, and then he turned into a piece of s***,” Romano said to 8 News Now in November.
His close friend of two years, Richard Stevens, helped to keep him off the streets since the eviction, though he said it was not easy. It required using his own money and pleading with strangers online to take him in temporarily as he said Romano does not have the physical capacity to take care of himself.
“In a wheelchair, double amputee. It’s like, how is he going to get around?” Stevens said near Harmon and Decatur Friday afternoon. “He barely knows how to get to the store, let alone live on the streets.”
Then, after multiple 8 News Now reports on Romano’s situation, U.S. VETS – Las Vegas took notice.
The organization connected with Romano and transitioned him into a new apartment in January where he now lives with his new caretaker. His case manager, Trista Dowd, said they’ve covered the security deposit and the first three months of his rent.
But, Romano’s success is one increasingly difficult to imitate with others in his position, she said.
“Ideally, we get clients in and out, turned around in a hopefully 90-day timeframe,” Dowd said inside her office Friday morning. “We are seeing a lot more veterans experiencing homelessness, and our numbers, as far as our program goes, are increasing daily.”
U.S. VETS – Las Vegas data shows hundreds more veterans are turning to them to find housing since the pandemic. 1,485 clients were enrolled in its programs in 2019, compared to the 1,691 enrolled in 2022.
The booming cost to live in Las Vegas is one reason, she said. Growing rent prices, pricy security deposits, high credit score requirements and increasing opposition from landlords to take clients in are all contributing factors.
At any time, Dowd said their six case managers are serving 30 clients each.
“People who are 50, 60, 70, 80 years old might have some skeletons in their closet like evictions, like felonies, that we need to be able to be understanding and compassionate about and being able to work around that,” Dowd said. “If any of our veterans spend any time defending our streets, then the last thing they should be doing is sleeping in them.”
While Dowd hopes for a local rent price cap to ease future housing searches, Romano’s success story gives her and others hope that unhoused veterans in Las Vegas won’t be forgotten.
“The man deserves to have a good rest of his years, however many that may be. Hopefully many,” Stevens said with a laugh. “Where he is now and where he was, my god. It’s like, I can actually see the light for him.”
Stevens continues to fundraise for Romano through this GoFundMe campaign, as the 81-year-old will become responsible for his own rent beginning in April and is looking for a new electric wheelchair.