A community of help under one roof AIDS: Resource center a dream home where service organizations will team up to tackle physical and mental health problems.

December 16, 1997|By Stephanie Shapiro | Stephanie Shapiro,SUN STAFF

A homeless woman with AIDS and a history of drug addiction arrives at HERO, the Health Education Resource Organization in downtown Baltimore, with two young children, who may or may not be HIV-infected. A case manager tells her all the different places to find detox counseling, housing, meals, health care for herself and her children.

Daunted by the prospect of riding the bus from one clinic to another, she doesn't follow through. So the woman gets no food, no counseling, no assistance with her children. Her isolation condemns her children to neglect, and in the long run, contributes to Baltimore's spiraling population of impoverished, HIV-infected women who are also afflicted with drug addiction or mental illness, or both.

As the demographics of people with HIV or AIDS have shifted from a population that was once predominantly gay, white and male to one that is poor, African-American and female, Baltimore's AIDS service organizations have been forced to rethink their approach to care.

Organization leaders got together a couple of years ago and brainstormed. They envisioned a community center where clients could receive psychiatric care, meals, day care, housing services, vocational training and financial advice under one roof. For clients who slept in shelters, there would also be showers, lockers, mailboxes and the opportunity to form a community with others who share the same difficulties.

The center was a dream that would take energy, unprecedented collaboration among the agencies, and money, of course.

They are almost there. Tomorrow, when the boards of HERO and Moveable Feast, a community organization that delivers meals to people with HIV/AIDS, meet formally for the first time at a newly purchased building on Maryland Avenue, the "Maryland Community Resource Center" will take a giant step toward becoming a reality. It will be a national model for other cities.

Although the new building is not scheduled to open until spring 1999, the Resource Center will operate temporarily in HERO's office at the Medical Arts Building on Cathedral Street, beginning Feb. 1.

When it's running at full speed, the Resource Center -- managed by HERO and Moveable Feast but staffed by a spectrum of agencies that assist the poor and those with HIV/AIDS -- will provide a continuum of services from addiction counseling and legal services to washers and dryers to voice mail. A copy center supported by city contracts will give clients a job. A dozen transitional beds will also be provided for medically fragile clients by Project PLASE (People Lacking Ample Shelter and Employment).

The Resource Center will also help clients who are taking protease inhibitors to stick with an elaborate regimen that involves a particular diet, refrigerated medication and ample water. "It's impossible to do that when out on the streets," says Indira Kotval, program director for HERO, one of Baltimore's oldest AIDS advocacy and health organizations.

A sense of community is key to serving a disenfranchised populace, Kotval says. "People came to HERO for either case management or legal services, but there was no place to really network and hang out, to meet other people like themselves and do things together."

Plans for the resource center coincided with Moveable Feast's need for an expanded kitchen. Last year, the agency served 200,000 meals. That number will increase by several hundred this year. A state-of-the art commercial kitchen with freezing capabilities and a loading dock will allow Moveable Feast to double its production and expand its services in the surrounding counties, where there are no similar services.

In 1996, Baltimore City and Baltimore County were awarded a $1.3 million federal grant funded jointly by Housing and Urban Development and Health and Human Services to open the Resource Center. Eleven private and public agencies have also donated time, personnel and $1.2 million.

Baltimore City has committed $850,000 and Baltimore County has contributed $450,000. Moveable contributed $200,000, and state legislators will submit a bond bill. And a campaign to raise the final $2 million needed to renovate the Resource Center's site has been launched.

To attend to the disparate needs of indigent people with AIDS, "we have to do the whole picture -- social-economic, psychological, well-being, housing, the meals," says HERO's director, Dr. Leonardo Ortega.

For information on the Maryland Community Resource Center, call either HERO at 410-685-1180, or Moveable Feast at 410-243-4604.

Pub Date: 12/16/97

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