Ray Brooks will tell you bluntly: He wouldn’t be anywhere good without Clare Housing.
He has lived in the supportive housing community in south Minneapolis for people with HIV for nine months in an apartment where he gets “nothing but sunshine.” But on top of a home, Brooks, 63, is getting ample support with taking his medication, transportation to his doctor appointments and housekeeping.
The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development announced Wednesday that Clare Housing would receive $951,376 to continue providing 26 units of permanent housing at Clare Midtown and supportive services to 45 households annually.
The federal dollars will pay for a combination of rental assistance and a supportive services manager to help coordinate employment training, mental health services, drug or alcohol treatment or other help.
In 2018, there were 8,966 Minnesotans living with HIV, according to the state Department of Health. Patients and advocates often point to increased awareness, prevention efforts and advancements in medicine with helping people live longer.
Their search for housing is complicated by the stigma of HIV, as well as racism, homophobia and other factors. The Minnesota HIV Housing Coalition released a report in July that estimates nearly 1,000 people living with HIV in the state are seeking permanent housing. Among them, more than a third are housed in temporary or unstable situations.
Last year, Clare Housing served nearly 300 people, and the need is not slowing down, says Chuck Peterson, executive director of the organization. The agency has a waiting list of 350 people hoping to come into permanent housing in one of its 214 units. Peterson pointed out they’re seeing a rise in need among older adults, people under 26 years old and single families.
Residents of Clare Housing have to be diagnosed with HIV or be part of a household where at least one person is HIV positive. Many have an average income of $572 per month, too low to rent on the private market without rent assistance. Some common challenges for them include no rental history, criminal backgrounds, chronic homelessness and previous evictions.
“HIV isn’t really a barrier to housing anymore; it’s all of the other issues surrounding their life that creates the barriers for them to achieving housing,” Peterson said. “We believe housing is a human right and that everybody deserves housing, so there’s very few things that will prevent us from housing somebody.”
For Brooks, he feels in a better place physically and mentally since coming into supportive housing. But one of the biggest problems he sees is lack of education in communities about the difference between HIV and AIDS.
“Last week I was sitting outside and this gentleman came by and said ‘Oh, is this the AIDS building?’ and I was like, ‘I don’t see that on the building anywhere,’ ” Brooks said with a laugh.
In the late 1980s, Laurence Norfleet was on the front lines of the LGBT community in Minnesota. At rallies, he made speeches on behalf of those with HIV and AIDS diagnoses when it “was a confusing and scary time because no one knew what would happen next.”
In 1994 he said he was diagnosed with HIV and was soon taking 11 pills a day. Now, Norfleet, 53, is a self-proclaimed “poster person” for Clare Housing, pointing to how in 14 years of living in the group’s apartments he is sober, has stopped smoking and is down to three pills a day for his HIV.
These days he takes the bus every morning to go to the Aliveness Project, where he talks to people recently diagnosed with HIV.
“Creating a place where people are safe is not as important as the medication, but it’s close to it,” Norfleet said. “You need the support because trying to tackle the disease alone, a lot of people have died and just fallen off the radar simply because they tried to do it alone.”