[Hpn] Homeless AIDS advocates want federal aid to match medical needs FWD

Tom Boland wgcp@earthlink.net
Tue, 26 Sep 2000 00:45:46 -0700 (PDT)


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FWD  Associated Press - AP Wire Service - Sep 24, 2000

HOMELESS AIDS ADVOCATES WISH FEDERAL AID COULD MATCH MEDICAL NEEDS

By GEORGE WATSON
Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK (AP) _ They carry their life's possessions on withering
backs and hide death within their broken bodies.

Some spent an entire lifetime on the streets, searching for a
home under a molding cardboard box in a trash-strewn alleyway.
Others are teens who ran from something but stumbled into a life
far worse; they trade sex for a night in a bed. Still more believe
their luck has run out after recently losing jobs, apartments and
friends.

But every day, a small handful of the thousands of homeless men
and women living with AIDS in New York City make a tremendous
effort rarely taken by their brethren. They seek help. They fight
for life, no matter the inevitable future.

Scientists haven't cured HIV or AIDS, but their powerful drug
concoctions that keep people alive longer create a curious problem.
Public and non-profit agencies already struggle to pay for their
existing cases. Now they wonder: How can we possibly help the new
people infected with the virus?

``Today, people think the epidemic is over,'' said Gina
Quattrochi, the president of the National AIDS Housing Coalition
and the executive director at Bailey House, a private center in
Greenwich Village helping homeless AIDS survivors. ``The reality is
people are living much longer, but the vast majority are
disabled.''

Currently, Congress is debating next year's budget. Advocates
like Quattrochi requested increasing the $232 million budget by $60
million _ and were worried when President Clinton proposed upping
it to just $260 million. Disappointment has turned to fear because
Senate leaders don't want to increase the appropriation at all.

``It's thin. We have to get it up,'' said U.S. Rep. Jerrold
Nadler, D-N.Y., a longtime supporter of homeless AIDS services who
pushed the House to propose increasing funds to $250 million.
``This country is rolling in money.''

Expending millions of dollars for AIDS-exclusive assistance
meets resistance in every case.

``There has always been pressure from the far right to portray
it for drug addicts and queers,'' Quattrochi said, adding that
others question the need to fund specific AIDS housing when so much
housing is already available.

Quattrochi says only half of Bailey House's residents are gay or
lesbian. She noted that at least 450,000 Americans with AIDS need
housing, and that's a conservative estimate because some haven't
learned they have the illness or are mentally ill and may never
know.

New York, the city that served 1,200 homeless people with AIDS
in 1988, now assists more than 27,000. That total is steadily
increasing as it has for the past few years, said Ruth Reinecke, a
spokeswoman for the city's Division of AIDS Services.

A Brooklyn federal judge's decision earlier this week shows the
city apparently hasn't adjusted well to the surging numbers. The
judge, who slammed the Division of AIDS Services for ``chronically
and systematically'' delaying or terminating assistance, ordered
the agency placed under federal oversight for three years. The city
plans to appeal the decision.

Quattrochi says if members of Congress would look at operations
like Bailey House, they'd understand why advocates plead for more
money. The alternative, she says, is that health care costs will
soar when homeless AIDS patients seek treatment in emergency rooms,
which is more expensive than standard care. Emergency rooms also
don't offer AIDS patients the counseling that could help decrease
the spread of HIV.

Bailey House, one of many nonprofit groups that assist the city
in serving the homeless AIDS population, started when the virus was
first identified and it was still considered by many as
homosexuals' punishment from God. The 6 1/2-story building, set in
the primest of real estate along the Hudson River, nurtured
homeless AIDS survivors.

In 1995, Bailey House added a vocational studies program because
clients lived longer thanks to the drug cocktails and weren't
interested in just wasting away. Three years later, Bailey House
opened the program to anyone with AIDS living in New York.

``I wanted to do something productive with my life,'' said Sean
Ransom, 31, who contracted the virus in the late 1980s and sought
help four years ago. ``I didn't want to ... take my meds and wait
to die.''

Those medications _ a triple combination of drugs _ have doubled
the average time it takes for the HIV infection to develop into
AIDS, said Professsor Alvaro Munoz of Johns Hopkins University's
School of Public Health. They also increased the average survival
time of AIDS sufferers from 18 months to six years.

In the late 1980s, residents in Bailey House stayed an average
of three months, and their stay almost always ended at a funeral
home. These days, they stay about three years, if not longer. Many
walk out on their own, often to Bailey House-assisted apartments.

Beyond treatment, stable housing is crucial to every patients'
health, Quattrochi says. Two-thirds of AIDS patients cite housing
as a top priority, just below medical treatment.

Living on a friend's couch or moving between shelters, patients
find it difficult and tiring to get continual care; the effort
weakens the body and strengthens the disease _ a deadly duo.
Patients also must live with failing organs and need refrigerators
to keep their medicine effective.

Stable housing becomes a primal urge, Quattrochi says.

``Let me put it this way, what I always ask people is, 'Where do
you want to be when you have the flu?''' she said. ``You want to be
at home.''

These problems become remote when a homeless person wakes up
after a night under crumbled, urine-stained newspapers.
Medications? It's doubtful they have any. It's often little better
in city-run shelters.

Derryck, who declined to give his last name, lived in emergency
housing officially called Single Room Occupancy Units, but known by
residents as bare-boned welfare hotels.

He could touch all four walls from the middle of his cubicle.
Occupants shared a single bathroom, and he shudders when
remembering the filth. Prostitutes, drugs, loan sharking, he
recalls, this place was a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah.

And Derryck, who is 50, concedes he was lucky to live there.
``There's even a lack of bad housing,'' he said glumly.

When the residents leave such rude accommodations, bare-boned is
the better description for the person, not the place.

But Derryck found his way to Bailey House. Now he can sit on his
bed in his 85-square-foot home, with its view of the Hudson River,
watch TV, grab a snack _ or his medications _ from his mini-fridge,
or use his personal bathroom.

``It works for me,'' he said with a grin as smooth jazz
sauntered out of his stereo's speakers. Behind him hung posters of
singer Bob Marley and a pink flamingo.

Beyond that, the window looked out onto the water. As he spoke,
a sailboat sliced through gusty winds as it cruised south heading
out into the open bay.

AP-ES-09-24-00 1346EDT
Received  Id AP10026853033E12 on Sep 24 2000 19:07

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