People with AIDS Suffer a Second Epidemic: Homelessness, April 1989

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Before Larry Conklin died this January, he was known as the mayor of Bailey House. It wasn’t because he was particularly popular or that he got involved with group activities. Over Conklin’s 11-and-a-half years there, hundreds of men and women passed through the halls of the country’s first group home for homeless people with AIDS. Somehow, “the mayor” always managed to hang on.

When City Limits talked to Conklin in 1989, two years after he was diagnosed, housing designated for people with AIDS (PWAs) was virtually nonexistent. Though there were an estimated 5,000 to 8,000 homeless PWAs in New York City, there were only 80 apartments specifically earmarked for them.

Today, there are 3,000 AIDS-supported housing units, where patients have access to health and mental health services, drug and alcohol abuse counseling, and nutritional assistance. A total of 26,000 PWAs receive rent subsidies from the city’s Division of AIDS Services and Income Support, which helps them pay for private apartments.

Yet the supply of housing is still woefully short of the need. Most of the private apartments that DASIS clients live in are in the outer boroughs, far from specialized hospitals and services, resulting in a strong demand for supportive housing. According to DASIS statistics, 11,000 of its 28,000 clients have applied for supportive housing, but there is room for just 9 percent of them in existing facilities. At the same time, says Jennifer Flynn of the AIDS Housing Network, even the city’s rental allowance–up to $480 a month–often isn’t enough to help limited-income clients obtain private apartments.

Paradoxically, the medical developments that have prolonged the lives of people with AIDS are the reason suitable housing is so difficult to find. In 1988, when Conklin moved in, Bailey House was a place to die. The average resident lived for six to eight months after arriving. But as new AIDS drugs were developed, people like Larry lived longer.

“Larry was probably the longest survivor of AIDS housing. He lived through three or four eras of the epidemic,” says Gina Quattrochi, executive director of Bailey House. “He is also symbolic of the challenges we are still facing now. The permanent supported housing units have not grown exponentially along with the epidemic.”

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