“Without this house and all of you people, I’d be a thing of the past.”
George is a well-known personality in the community. Now in his mid-60s, he’s been living with HIV/AIDS for 34 years. During that time he has lived in various places downtown and worked periodically, mostly in the restaurant business. But his living situation was very precarious.
“It was horrible, very depressing, very unsafe. There were four home invasions and two crystal meth houses above my apartment. I couldn’t breathe the air, there was so much smoke.”
As a result, his health and his psychological state deteriorated to the point where he says he felt suicidal.
“I didn’t see any hope anywhere. I was in a bad depression – no light in the tunnel at all.”
George had a visiting nurse who realized he needed a high level of intervention. He eventually ended up in respite care to help him recover and stabilize. It was then that he was first connected to Fife House and filled out an application, though he says that he didn’t expect much to happen.
He returned home once his health improved but was unable to properly care for himself. He says that cooking was difficult for him and although he had some assistance, he says his house was a mess.
Meanwhile, things were already in motion at Fife House for George. It was evident that he was a candidate for our HIV/AIDS Complex Care Project. This program is an innovative partnership aimed at addressing changing care and support needs, and housing needs of people who are aging, experiencing aging related illnesses, complex care and cognition issues.
George made the decision to move to the Sherbourne apartments where a high support housing model could be provided. This development “gave me inspiration” he says. Such a move would give him access to a variety of services provided by Fife House and our project partners, including intensive case management, general and mental health nursing, personal support workers and a variety of therapies.
Before moving, George realized that given the condition of his furniture he would have to start from scratch. We were able to provide him with a new bed and bedding and, along with a few possessions, he moved into Sherbourne with the help of two of our volunteers.
The transition was not entirely easy, and he says at first he felt nervous and wasn’t sure he would be safe, as he was still in the same neighbourhood. Over time he was able to see that he had made the right decision.
“It was a big break, but this is all right. I wake up and still can’t believe it’s mine. I feel safer.”
George is just one of the 32 individuals who are being helped through the HIV/AIDS Complex Care Project and represents a typical story for people who are aging with HIV. Often living alone, they tend to be marginalized and lack a sufficient personal network that will help them overcome the challenges they face as they grow older. In George’s case, providing in-home services would not have significantly improved his quality of life or his health. He required much more extensive case management, something he would only be able to get if he was living where round the clock assistance was available, if needed. The change for him was quite dramatic.
Staff is helping him connect with a food delivery program, so he doesn’t have to worry about cooking. And the community programs that are available in the building have also contributed to his general well-being, and reduced his sense of isolation.
“The atmosphere is good. I go to the lunches and for massages. I’m making friends.”
Helping men, women, and families rebuild their lives and live with hope and dignity is what we’ve been doing for 28 years. But we can’t do it alone. Without your help, we can’t go above and beyond basic services to help more people like George and others in the community who are experiencing complex issues as they grow older, living with HIV/AIDS.
We can confidently say that George speaks for many Fife House clients when he says: “You’ll never know how much I appreciate it.”