We Can’t Rest — October 24, 2013
A Place to Call Home
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to participate in Clare Housings’ third annual fundraising breakfast – A Place to Call Home. Each year I am inspired by the stories and lives of our residents and the generosity of our community. I want to thank everyone who made this event possible, our Board of Directors and staff, and donors. If you were unable to join us, I wanted to share my comments with you.
We Can’t Rest
Who would have imagined in 2013 Minnesota would affirm and legalize same-sex marriage? And who would have dreamed a few short weeks later the US Supreme Court – a court that 27 years ago said gay sex was not entitled to legal protections – even behind closed doors – would also affirm same-sex marriage in our country. It’s a moment in time we all deserve to celebrate.
But in our celebration over wedded bliss, we cannot forget another kind of “til death do us part” – the bonds that tied us together as a community, across social status, race and generations. The bonds that helped us fight HIV/AIDS in its darkest days. The same bonds that built and remain the foundation of Clare Housing today.
We are at a critical crossroad in our fight against HIV. And let me remind you, it is still a fight. The evidence behind access to care and treatment as prevention, and the expansion of health care coverage through the Affordable Care Act provides us with a unique moment in time to end an epidemic which has ravaged our community for more than three decades. Just think, if we could come together with the same passion and commitment as we did with marriage equality, we could end this epidemic in our lifetime.
We have made huge strides over the years to slow HIV infections and we know that with continued advances in HIV treatment, deaths have declined significantly since the early 1990’s. But even with these advances, we can’t rest, because progress remains undermined by inequities in race, class, homelessness and yes, still sexual orientation. And, affordable housing remains the most critical, unmet need for people living with HIV/AIDS today.
Imagine what life is like for a person who lives on less than $8,000 a year – a person who is HIV-positive, homeless and does not have access to medical care, or a safe, warm bed. Imagine yourself waking up under a bridge or on the bus you rode all night to stay warm and wondering where your next meal will come from, or, if you will survive another day.
Now, think about the story of HIV today – statistics tell us that Black-Americans continue to bear the biggest burden of the HIV epidemic. Compared to White-Americans, they are eight times more likely to be HIV-positive and ten times more likely to die from this disease. And, Americans living below the poverty line – they are six times more likely to be HIV-positive than the national average rate. We also know that HIV continues to disproportionately impact the gay community, as men who have sex with men account for nearly two-thirds of new infections. And here at home, there were 315 new HIV infections reported in 2012 – an 8% increase over the previous year.
Clare Housings’ mission is to provide affordable housing, supportive services and compassionate care to people living with HIV/AIDS.
We started this work 26 years ago when Brother Louis bought a house in south Minneapolis, recruited volunteers and opened its doors to provide shelter to dying young men. In 1992 we served just eight people and today we are the largest provider of HIV-specific housing in the state, housing 150 people in 116 units of affordable and supportive homes – homes that are designed to be a place of healing for both body and spirit.
We are serving HIV+ people who are marginalized in our community and have little, if any access to medical care or financial resources. They are often homeless or on the verge of homelessness, have a mental illness or chemical addiction. They are people who come from impoverished backgrounds. They are people who have been impoverished by this disease.
We focus our work in three areas:
We provide affordable housing – We own four community care homes and have built two apartment buildings. We partner with landlords to provide scattered site affordable housing throughout the metro area. We are a key player in ending homelessness in Minnesota.
We provide assisted living services – 24/7 care and support for those in our community care homes and our apartment buildings. We provide medical assistance, nutrition and daily support services. We reduce emergency room visits and nursing home placements. We reduce the public cost of healthcare.
And finally, we provide compassionate care. This is our roots – our reason for being. We provide end of life care for those whose bodies have said “enough.” We make every conceivable accommodation to reduce their pain and suffering and to enhance their quality of life.
And what am I most proud of? Our staff. Every day they surround our residents with the love and care they would provide their very own family member. I see it when I watch them interact with our residents – hug them – ask them how they are feeling. And I hear it from our volunteers, and the family and friends of people who call Clare Housing home.
This is Clare Housing – the unique combination of housing and supportive services which is key to slowing, if not stopping the spread of HIV in Minnesota. Right now we have a waiting list of 200 people wanting our services. In the next three years we will create up to 100 additional units of housing. We have begun planning for the construction of two new apartment buildings we hope to open in 2015. But we can’t stop there. And, we can’t do it alone – we need the support of people like you, your friends, our city and state in order for us to fulfill our mission and achieve our vision.
This past week I had the opportunity to attend the North American HIV/AIDS Housing Conference. When I returned to the office on Monday morning, the first piece of mail I opened was a letter from a resident. And I quote…
“Chuck, A very big and genuine THANK YOU and all at Clare House. I’m very much starting to feel at home … at my new home! Owed in large part to you and your terrific staff. Michelle is just beyond wonderful (you know that!). And I’ve met and worked with Elisabeth and Debbie … both great. What a great team you have, and I for one appreciate what you’ve done, and continue to do for others. The clouds are lifting away.”
This is why I come to work every day. This is why I so passionately believe in the mission of Clare Housing and our belief that everyone – regardless of race, social status or sexual orientation, deserves a place they can call home. Please join us in making a difference in the life of one person living with HIV.