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Housing First

news analysis
For AIDS Sufferers, a Housing Challenge
Groups Struggle to Find a More Permanent Living Space

Listen Listen to Beth Fertig's report.

Bailey Boushay House
Bailey-Boushay House in Washington state was the first skilled nursing facility and day health program for people living with AIDS.

Photo courtesy AIDS Housing of Washington


"Going to these hotels stresses you out so much. You can't cook, can't sleep properly, you always got to be watching your room."

Renaldo Decos, currently living in a tiny room in midtown Manhattan



Lyon Building residents
A child visits her grandfather at the Lyon Building in Seattle, Wash., a 64-unit building providing permanent housing for people living with HIV and AIDS who have histories of mental illness, substance abuse and homelessness. The facility opened in September 1997.

Photo courtesy AIDS Housing of Washington


"My quality of life has changed because I don't have to worry about housing -- I can focus on my health."

AIDS patient Paul Teraneh



Activist protest
Activists protest for increased funding for AIDS sufferers at New York City Hall.

Photo courtesy New York City AIDS Housing Network


Sept. 13, 2002 -- In New York City, housing is usually expensive and hard to find. For the estimated 25,000 residents with HIV or AIDS receiving housing assistance, the process of finding a place to live while dealing with ill health can be even more difficult.

Because of the increased danger of homelessness for people with AIDS and HIV -- and the long waiting list for housing assistance -- New York City has begun temporarily housing people in hotels. It costs millions of dollars a year, and often still does not provide adequate resources.

WNYC's Beth Fertig recently met Renaldo Decos, who's currently living in a tiny room east of midtown Manhattan. The fourth-floor room is the size of an elevator, and the bathroom is down the hall. With no kitchen, Renaldo has no choice but to eat sandwiches. "That's not food," he tells Fertig.

Infected with both Hepatitis C and HIV, Renaldo hasn't been working since his marriage fell apart and he lost his apartment, and the stress of being moved every few weeks only exacerbates his ill health. "Going to these hotels stresses you out so much," he says. "You can't cook, can't sleep properly, you always got to be watching your room."

Stories abound of apartments infested with rats, and housing officials placing needy people who can barely walk in apartments without elevators. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended the city's response, saying only 5 percent of people with HIV/AIDS have been put in hotels. Officials say they adhere to the 1997 law guaranteeing medically appropriate housing for people with HIV, getting them their own room and refrigerators for food and medicine.

In fact, those medicines might be the reason that New York is having such a hard time finding housing -- people with AIDS are living longer, and their drugs are costing them more money.

Fertig spoke with Jennifer Flynn, of the New York City AIDS Housing Network, and with Betsy Lieberman of AIDS Housing of Washington. Both have seen great increases in the costs of housing -- and a corresponding increase in homelessness.

According to Flynn, the nature of AIDS and HIV is that it is "an episodic illness where you're working at some point, then suddenly you can't work, and you lose your housing." Furthermore, she says, "A lot of people who have AIDS are active drug users, are dually diagnosed mentally ill." This greatly reduces their ability to keep their housing, she says.

There are also success stories. Paul Teraneh did eventually get an apartment, through the AIDS Housing Network. "My quality of life has changed because I don't have to worry about housing," he tells Fertig. "I can focus on my health."

As advocates for people with HIV and AIDS say, for those dealing with the disease, housing is healthcare.

Other Resources

New York City AIDS Housing Network

AIDS Housing of Washington

WNYC.org



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