The Long Fight for AIDS Housing

Bailey House celebrates an anniversary and continues the battle for homeless people with HIV

When Freddie Hughes developed full-blown AIDS eight years ago, after years as an injecting drug user, he thought his life was plunging into an abyss.

“It scared me when they told me I had AIDS,” said Hughes, a 42-year-old Harlem native. “People were dying around me, dying every week—it’s a different lifestyle, the drug lifestyle.”

With no family to support him, Hughes said he was terrified and disoriented, when he was diagnosed with AIDS in the early 1990s.

“Doors close in your face; people don’t know you anymore,” he said. “It can take a toll on you—if you’re not mentally strong enough.”

However, when the homeless Hughes met Regina Quattrochi of Bailey House in 1996, he felt safer almost immediately.

“Gina told me, ‘This is your home now.’ I didn’t have to do anything by myself if I wasn’t able to,” he said. “They [Bailey House] were there for me when I wasn’t there for me.”

Bailey House, a Manhattan-based nonprofit organization that houses and serves people living with HIV/AIDS celebrated its 20th birthday this October. In 1983, a group of clergy, Greenwich Village business owners and gay and lesbian activists established the organization as a reaction to the new, devastating disease that was wrecking the lives of community members, rendering them homeless and poor and without adequate medical assistance.

Housing is a fundamental human right, the organization believes, and without stable and safe residences, people living with HIV/AIDS cannot access essential resources such as healthcare.

“Here [at Bailey House], people can at least live independently and die with dignity,” said Quattrochi, chief executive officer of Bailey House, Inc. “It doesn’t matter if you’re going to live 60 years or 10 days,” she said. “You should live in a place you call home.”

Initially raising money to rent apartments for those in need, Bailey House eventually purchased its own building, what is now the Bailey-Holt House, located at 180 Christopher St. in Greenwich Village. This is where Hughes lives, along with 43 other clients. Founded in 1986, it was the first AIDS residence of its kind in the U.S.

Residents live in private rooms, with attached bathrooms and refrigerators to store medicine and snacks, and receive 24-hours support from staff. They enjoy their three daily meals in a cafeteria overlooking the Hudson River, and have the luxury of lounging in the building’s rooftop garden whenever they wish.

“Costs are astronomical in this area—this place is very reasonable, very affordable,” said Ralph Mauro, 51, a former Village barkeeper and resident at the Bailey-Holt House since last New Year’s Eve. Clients, who are all referred to Bailey House through the New York City HIV/AIDS Service Administration, pay 30 percent of their monthly income for their subsidized housing, he explained.

“Considering they have a limited budget, they’re doing a great job,” Mauro said of the Bailey House staff.

The contribution from clients’ incomes, drawn mostly from Social Security payments and disability insurance, amounts to less than one percent of Bailey House’s annual budget, said Quattrochi.

“I have to raise $1.7 million this year,” she said, adding that funding mostly comes from the New York State government, with additional support from special events, major donors and direct-mail fundraising.

“Our clients, they come from all walks of life, all ethnic groups,” Quattrochi said. “There are people who’ve had major careers and doctoral degrees, and others who’ve had no formal education. The only thing they have in common is AIDS.”

More than 65 percent of New Yorkers living with AIDS belong to low-income groups and need subsidized housing, Quattrochi said. Twenty-three years after the first cases of AIDS confronted the city, homelessness among people with HIV/AIDS remains a crisis, with certain groups—ex-offenders, women with children, undocumented immigrants and older adults—subject to higher risk, the organization says.

“I’m glad they have a Bailey House for people like me,” said Ruby Phillips, 53, a Bailey-Holt House resident since February 2003. “I just wanted a place to live — I didn’t want to be a burden on anyone.”

Phillips, who became homeless after her aging mother and caregiver died in 1995, received little assistance from her sisters, who were busy with their own lives, she said. Like Phillips, most Bailey House clients want to live without depending on anyone, although they need assistance in making treatment decisions, encouragement to adhere to those treatments and help in combating side effects, which Bailey provides for them.

As a leader in the field of AIDS housing, Bailey House feels it has a responsibility to share the best practices it has developed in the last 20 years. Through its Technical Assistance Program, the organization reaches out to HIV/AIDS service organizations throughout the U.S. and abroad, advising organizations in countries as far away as Africa, Japan, Italy and Pakistan, Quattrochi said.

In an ongoing expansion effort, the organization recently established Schafer Hall in East Harlem, which offers housing and support services to 30 single parents and their children, as well as 36 single adults over the age of 50. In addition, their Supportive Housing Apartment Program rents 90 apartments for clients in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens, housing a total of 188 people.

At its October 21 fundraising dinner gala at the Tribeca Rooftop on Desbrosses Street, marking the group’s 20th anniversary, Quattrochi reflected on the battle to provide medically appropriate housing for homeless people living with HIV and AIDS.

“While we have accomplished much, there is a long way to go,” she said. “People with AIDS are living longer so there’s a need for greater attention to their quality of life and greater funding for AIDS-related programs such as supportive housing.”

A total of 20 Key Awards were given to individuals, corporations and foundations that have contributed to the battle for decent and medically sound housing for New Yorkers living with HIV. Individuals honored included former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, his son Andrew Cuomo, the secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Clinton administration, Dr. Mathilde Krim, the founder and chairwoman of the American Foundation for AIDS Research (AmFAR), Rodger McFarlane, one of the founders of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis who is now executive director of the philanthropic Gill Foundation, actor Alan Cumming, Laurie Garrett, a journalist who received the Pulitzer Prize for her AIDS reporting, and Tom Viola, the executive director of Broadway Cares/ Equity Fights AIDS.

Actors Harvey Fierstein and Whoop Goldberg served as the evening’s honorary co-chairs.

Bailey House is preparing its annual Turkey Drive to help families struggling to make ends meet have a bountiful Thanksgiving. Donations of frozen turkeys, canned goods, dry goods, desserts and other nonperishable foods can be delivered to the Bailey House offices at 275 Seventh Avenue through November 19 or to Bailey-Holt House, located at 180 Christopher Street from November 18-21. Companies interested in hosting canned food drives should contact Tamesha Harper at (212) 633-2500, ext. 215 or e-mail her at tharper@baileyhouse.org.

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