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Queens priest close to opening shelter

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Stephen McKinley

Father Coleman Costello is tired — and with good reason. He was in his office all weekend, and Monday morning saw him back at his desk by 5:30.

What’s driving this tall, amiable Irish-American priest to his desk is the same task that he’s devoted much of his working life to: elder abuse.

Within two months, Costello hopes finally to preside over the opening of a shelter, where abused seniors can spend time recovering — at the same time as their carers and relatives rehabilitate themselves also. He founded the non-profit precursor, Walk the Walk, in 1993, and now all that’s needed is an additional $100,000 to get the shelter completed. However, after that, operating costs are impossible to estimate, he said. This will be the first such shelter in the U.S.

"I’ve been consumed by this problem," Costello said, admitting that when he cared for his elderly mother, at one point he "burned out."

It’s no small problem: verbal and physical abuse of seniors is an issue that no one wants to speak about, even in today’s open, confessional society.

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"It’s easy to get upset and yell," Costello said, citing cases he has encountered over the years. His research indicates that perhaps 96 percent of cases involve physical abuse of some form.

There’s no shortage of people at risk, either. U.S. government statistics indicate that Woodside in Queens has the highest population of people over the age of 65 in the entire United States. Between Brooklyn and Queens, that makes a total of at least 800,000 seniors.

And if that’s not evidence of a potential problem, Costello has more statistics at his fingertips: the 1998 Califano Report that found alcoholism among women over the age of 59 is almost "epidemic," and the Dartmouth Report on Walk the Walk that substantially validates Costello’s own research over "America’s dirty little secret."

Costello is a first-generation American whose mother came from Spiddle, Co. Galway, and his father from Connemara.

Donations to the project can be sent to Walk the Walk, 25-09 38th Ave., Long Island City, NY 11101.

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