HIV patient feels grateful for city's help with home

FOREIGN CLOSEUP

December 02, 1993|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,Staff Writer

EDINBURGH, Scotland -- The weeping fig flourishes in Peter's flat.

"It thrives on sorrow," Peter says. "And there's been plenty of sorrow here. That's why it weeps."

Peter is HIV positive. He was diagnosed eight years ago. He probably was infected more than a decade ago. He's a drug user, a former heroin addict now on methadone maintenance. He has a lymphoma in his left leg.

He doesn't want his last name used or his picture taken. He's 27 and he looks infinitely older. He's a freckled bony-faced man, rail thin, with lank red hair and a voice so soft and low it hovers on the edge of silence.

His flat is snug and comfortable and more than roomy enough for him now. His partner, Marie, died three years ago. Peter still grieves for her.

"She stood up as a woman with AIDS," Peter says. Marie was one of the first women diagnosed in Edinburgh, perhaps the first to go public.

He copes with her loss with the help of Karen Haughton, his support worker. His flat is provided by the Supported Accommodation Team, AIDS (SATA), one of the numerous and often innovative groups offering services to people with HIV/AIDS in this city.

"She was a very lively, beautiful and articulate woman," Ms. Haughton says.

In the memorial picture album SATA keeps of tenants who have died, Marie's smile bursts off the page from her lovely, square-cut honest face.

The caption is a kind of epitaph: "Loved and admired by many people for her courage." She was 26 when she died. She and Peter had been together 10 years.

"There was a great need in us for each other," Peter says. "A very strong love.

"I pushed everybody out of my life, basically, because of Marie's death," he says. "Karen was a great strength for me. . . . We must have sat in this room for hours at a time and talked. Or I talked and she listened, coming to terms with Marie's death."

Ms. Haughton usually comes once a week, on Thursday or Friday. Sometimes they go out together. Sometimes she goes with him to the hospital for his treatment for his cancer. Sometimes they just sit and talk about TV or politics or sometimes much deeper things.

She's a gestalt psychotherapist who has worked with Peter six years, slightly longer than he's lived in his flat. She essentially negotiated him and Marie into the flat.

SATA has 30 flats in Edinburgh. The program was started by a man named Roger Kent who saw AIDS and HIV people homeless in New York City and vowed that would never happen in Edinburgh.

Their goal is to make life as ordinary and as anonymous as possible for people with HIV/AIDS in everyday accommodations just like their neighbors'.

Peter lives in a middle-class neighborhood in an apartment overlooking a schoolyard. The school's janitor once lived in his flat.

There are nine apartments in his building. He doesn't know if his neighbors are aware that he is positive for HIV antibodies. He hasn't told them. But he doesn't talk to them much.

"It's quite a private stair," he says, using an Edinburgh idiom for an apartment house.

SATA feels no obligation to inform the neighbors they're putting HIV-positive drug users in their building. Quite the contrary.

"It's none of their business what's going on in your house," Ms. Haughton says flatly.

Everybody pays a rent and a service charge, from which SATA recoups their costs of maintenance and furnishings. Tenants are usually receiving social welfare help.

Peter pays 41 pounds a week, about $60, which the housing department pays. He's got a living room, bedroom, dining room, roomy kitchen and bath.

"Where would I be without this scheme? I think I would probably be dead."

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