It’s an enterprise where its practitioners work tirelessly to put themselves out of business. The enterprise is providing shelter for those touched by HIV.
“Inadequate housing is a tremendous barrier to achieving good health—especially when dealing with a chronic illness,” notes Chuck Peterson, Executive Director of Clare Housing. “For a person living with HIV, housing is tied to health in powerful and inextricable ways. People who are homeless or unstably housed have HIV infection rates as much as sixteen times higher than people who have a stable place to live.”
According to its website (www.clarehousing.org), Clare Housing “provides a continuum of affordable and supportive housing options that create healing communities and optimize the health of people living with HIV/AIDS.”
This optimization begins by shifting some popular paradigms. Peterson continues, “Clare Housing believes housing is a human right and is the foundation of one’s life.” Today, Clare Housing is the largest licensed provider of supportive affordable housing for people living with HIV in Minnesota… but they’re not the only organization engaged in such laudable work. Another is Hope House.
As affirmed by its website (hopehousescv.org), Hope House is “an Adult Foster Care Organization that provides services to persons living with HIV who otherwise could not live independently.”
But to Hope House’s Executive Director, the work isn’t just a job. “It was a calling,” Bill Tiedemann testifies. “And it still is a calling.”
That calling came into Tiedemann’s life in the darkest form possible. “What got me into the work was losing so many friends, plus losing my partner Tom,” Bill Tiedemann remembers. “I needed to do something about a disease that was impacting my friends and community.”
One would hope that the dangers presented by HIV and homelessness would stop there (if not sooner), but one more demographic has proven to be lamentably at risk—the most vulnerable demographic of all.
According to its website (www.oneheartland.org), One Heartland is determined to “improve the lives of children, youth and families facing significant health challenges or social isolation.” All of these good vibrations manifest as a kids’ summer camp that promotes the values of education, recreation, diversity, partnership, and responsiveness. Other s’mores-free programs provide year-round support.
Helping children who are dealing with such obstacles can be gut wrenching, but Executive Director Patrick Kindler accepts this travail as an occupational hazard. “Does this work take an emotional toll?” he muses. “If it didn’t, then it would be time for a new job. Unfortunately, we can’t help everyone and turning away campers because of lack of funding is never easy and is probably the hardest part of our jobs. We have seen huge increases in participant registration the past few years and our donations haven’t kept up with those increases.”
A surprising amount of effort is dispensed educating the general public. Then re-educating it. Then re-re-educating it. Observes Kindler, “Less people have an understanding of the current state of HIV. Many people see headlines from stories about HIV/AIDS but don’t read the story and allow the headline to form their opinion about HIV.”
Bill Tiedemann’s practice runs parallel to this. “I experience speaking about HIV with others who may not share my views easier, but it still has weight in the conversation,” he reports. “I guess I mean that it is awkward still. It is getting better, but I must say that we are still struggling with some of the same myths and misconceptions from the early Nineties. Every once in a while I hear someone speak that HIV is cured, and I must correct that person. I also hear people discuss about risk factors and have misunderstanding about how one contracts HIV. It’s surprising to me.”
“Truly this has been a remarkable journey both personally and professionally,” Tiedemann concludes. “We have made amazing strides in the treatment of HIV. What keeps me in the sector, we still have more work to do to end the epidemic. All of us who work in the sector contribute to ending HIV this is a collective journey with others who have also been personally impacted by HIV.”
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