Haven for AIDS patients AIRS homes provide compassionate environments for people who have acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

November 21, 1996|By Ernest F. Imhoff | Ernest F. Imhoff,SUN STAFF

Dana Hill said, "I've never been happier." Sitting nearby, Lynda Smith said, "Things are a lot better than the shelter."

Hill and Smith, who both have AIDS, are residents of one of four Baltimore homes designed by the AIDS Interfaith Residential Services (AIRS) for single adults and families.

The houses were dedicated yesterday; three of the four opened this year.

Hill and Smith's pal, Jeanette Godlewski, said she feels good about her staff job with AIRS but is mindful of its human complexities. She takes care of residents who have AIDS in the end stages of the disease.

"I like the human interaction, the practical nature of it," said Godlewski, smiling at Hill and Smith. "Making people happy," she said.

Does Godlewski accomplish that, they were asked, when she talks with them, cooks, cleans, washes them, takes them for rides and coordinates the work of 60 volunteers who help provide care?

"Yes, she's great," Hill, 48, said of the 1995 graduate of the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania. "They're all good people," said Smith, of other staffers and volunteers at Don Miller House No. 1 in Govans, and No. 2 next door, both named for the late activist who inspired the housing.

Seventy-two people have lived in house No. 1 since it opened in 1988 with private rooms for five people in a quiet neighborhood. Almost all died there. The average stay last year was 3 1/2 months.

Hill and Smith are among the 10 single adults with acquired immune deficiency syndrome living in the Don Miller houses. Infected adults who are healthier and more self-sufficient, and their children, live in their own apartments in two houses in Bolton Hill.

The four residences are now home to 19 people and can accommodate 30 people.

The homes are the joint effort of two nonprofit groups using a $1 million grant from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development made final in 1995. Don Miller No. 1 was rented by AIRS until then.

AIRS and St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center, operating as D.M. Inc., bought the houses. St. Ambrose renovated them and installed elevators and other equipment.

The idea was to provide "a safe and caring place" for AIDS clients, some with dementia, who require constant care, said Leslie Kayne, executive director of AIRS.

One of their most important jobs is to make sure that patients take their medicine. New drug combinations, including protease inhibitors, have given people hope but require taking many pills several times a day with little room for error.

The 30 people served by AIRS are "only a drop in the bucket" of infected people needing a compassionate environment, instead of substandard housing, crashing with friends, staying at shelters or being shunned by their families, as often happens, Kayne said.

"We make an enormous difference in the lives of people we care for, but we get 200 calls a months from people we can't help," Kayne said. She estimates that many of the Baltimore area HIV and AIDS population of more than 13,000 have "unmet housing needs."

Kayne said the Bolton Hill houses, each with three apartments, are the first in the area offering housing with services for families with someone with AIDS or who tests positive for the human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS. "We wanted families to be able to stay together," she said.

One of the Bolton Hill houses was the subject of a suit by the Mount Royal Improvement Association. It opposed the row-house's expansion from two to three rental units. In July the Maryland Court of Special Appeals upheld its approval by the Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals.

Low-income adults with AIDS and families with at least one HIV or AIDS adult are eligible. Residents must remain drug free. AIRS prefers the four houses' addresses be withheld to protect the privacy of the residents.

The private, nonprofit group receives about $1,000 monthly from each single adult. Each turns over checks from Social Security, SSI and Project Home, the state's adult foster care program, which also provides case management services. Caring for each adult costs $2,000 monthly.

Families pay rent. Other grants help. The group's annual fund-raiser this year will be Dec. 8.

Miller, who worked for Baltimore Neighborhoods, suggested the idea of AIDS housing and the Central Maryland Ecumenical Council responded in 1987. Miller died of complications of the disease a month after the first house opened in 1988.

Kayne became interested when the partner of a nephew died of AIDS. A friend invited her to head the agency in 1990.

She said the job has been rewarding and frustrating.

AIDS is preventable, Kayne emphasized. "The real problem is to educate people so they're not getting AIDS," she said. "But it's hard to change people's behavior."

"Sex and death, the two big taboos in our society," she said. "They are the barrier. That must change."

Pub Date: 11/21/96

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