HIV housing group to expand options

Robyn Repya

Out of the 4,500 reported HIV patients in Minnesota, 89 percent reside in the metro area – and many aren’t receiving the health care they need, said Kim Lieberman of the Minnesota AIDS Project.

“For at least half – in some cases 65 percent – of people with HIV nationwide, site housing is their greatest need next to health care,” said Lieberman, a housing systems advocate and researcher for the Minnesota HIV Housing Coalition.

In response to the unique medical and psychological needs of HIV/AIDS patients, Clare Housing – which provides housing for HIV/AIDS-infected people – is drafting plans for a new 30-apartment housing facility in the St. Anthony Main neighborhood.

The new facility – which will only house adults – will feature an in-house social worker or case manager as well as housing and medication management specialists.

“Our hope is that by providing affordable housing with the help of supportive services, we can stabilize people’s lives,” said Lee Louis, executive director of Clare Housing.

Clare currently owns two similar properties in Minneapolis and St. Paul, but Louis said they have become outdated.

The existing properties are designed as foster homes, housing just four residents and an around-the-clock staff, including nurses and cooks.

Technological advances in health care have extended life expectancy and quality of life for people living with HIV/AIDS, Lewis said, heightening the need for a change in housing.

“They were originally set up largely for end-of-life housing, but now people are living longer,” he said.

Citing privacy concerns, Clare Housing management did not want to volunteer any residents for an interview.

Karen Shafer, house manager in Clare’s Minneapolis home, said her residents’ health care needs vary widely. While some residents have jobs and primarily need help with medication management, she said, others are completely dependent on staff, needing assistance to use the bathroom and bathe.

Shafer said living with other HIV-positive people helps give the residents a more positive outlook.

“If they’re out on their own, their depression is worse,” she said. “In a group home setting, they’re more aware of taking their meds and their well-being.”

The homes focus on intensive resident care, providing them with necessities and services in a welcoming and home-like environment.

“If they come in with nothing, we provide almost everything for them,” Shafer said.

Like other housing sites for people with HIV/AIDS, Clare residents usually come to the housing on referral from a social worker.

Management at the homes interviews potential residents to evaluate whether their placement in the home would be beneficial for them and the current residents.

Louis said that because AIDS is a cyclic disease and HIV/AIDS-positive people are often in and out of the hospital, there is a direct impact on many of the residents’ ability to work.

“People can go back and forth, they may be able to live and function independently for a time, then need more care,” Lieberman said.

Construction is expected to begin on the project this year. The new home will be drastically different from the two existing facilities, Louis said. The new apartments will focus on increasing residents’ sense of independence.

“We can have some services on-site, but it doesn’t need to be so intense,” Louis said.

Lieberman, who works at MAP helping people with HIV/AIDS find housing, said she helps approximately 120 people annually.

She said stable housing is important not only for the well-being of the infected individual, but to help prevent the spread of the disease.

“When somebody’s homeless Ö they might be in a situation where they’re trading sex for shelter or drugs,” Lieberman said.

Although the need for more housing is great, the St. Anthony project is not a certainty.

The new apartments will cost approximately $4 million. Louis expects $2 million to come from AIDS-related foundations and private donors, and is hopeful that federal and state agencies will contribute.

Louis said Clare will also request funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s national Housing Opportunities for Persons With AIDS programs.

Clare Housing has already purchased most of the land needed for the new apartments. But they still have to solicit community support to purchase some of the land next to the future housing site, which is owned by the Minneapolis Community Development Agency.

“The community support is 50-50 Ö part of that is just a matter of education – letting people know what we’re doing and dispelling myths,” Louis said.

“If you have a good education of the disease and use universal precautions, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about,” Louis said.

The existing homes fit nicely into the neighborhood, and he said the residents feel at home. The new apartments will give many a satisfying sense of independence.

“For people to have their own apartments, they don’t feel like they’ve lost everything,” Louis said.

Robyn Repya welcomes comments at [email protected]