City AIDS walk-in center closes for lack of money

November 27, 2008|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,julie.bykowicz@baltsun.com

A 25-year-old nonprofit AIDS organization in Baltimore that once garnered international acclaim for its innovative packaging of services closed its walk-in center yesterday.

Health Education Resource Organization, better known as HERO, is closing because of a lack of money. Private donations dried up in recent years, and early this month, city health officials announced that they were rerouting HERO's federal grants - and its clients - to more stable organizations.

HERO and health officials will work through early next month to move clients to new organizations, said Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, city health commissioner. But yesterday was the final day that people could use HERO's popular walk-in resource center.

Brian, 43, and Kenny, 44, who did not want to give their last names, were some of the last clients at HERO's Maryland Avenue building. Staff members handed out the last of the organization's stockpile of clothing and toiletries. HERO provided legal and counseling services, as well as housing and clinical referrals, to people with HIV or AIDS. About 25 people gathered for HERO's farewell lunch. Leftover food went to Project PLASE, a nearby nonprofit group that helps the homeless.

Brian said he and the other clients tried to keep the day as light as possible.

"We're making the best of it," he said. "The reality will set in later."

Added Kenny: "It was mixed emotions. You could see the sadness in people's faces. It's like a family breaking up."

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