Volume 17 • Issue 26 | Nov. 19 - 25, 2004

Downtown Express photo by Elisabeth Robert

On the roof of Bailey-Holt House at Christopher and West Sts., administrators and staff, from left, Belter Reyes, Regina Quattrochi, Robert Platt and Jeannette Milton

AIDS organization marks 20 years of providing housing

By Divya Watal

When Freddie Hughes developed full-blown AIDS eight years ago, after subjecting his body to a high-risk existence teeming with needles and drugs, he thought his life was plunging into an abyss.

“It scared me when they told me I had AIDS,” said Hughes, a 42-year-old Harlem native. “People were dying around me, dying every week — it’s a different lifestyle, the drug lifestyle.”

With no family to support him, Hughes said he was terrified and disoriented, when he was diagnosed with AIDS in the 1990s.

“Doors close in your face; people don’t know you anymore,” he said. “It can take a toll on you — if you’re not mentally strong enough.”

However, when the homeless Hughes met Regina Quattrochi of Bailey House in 1996, he felt safer almost immediately.

“Gina told me, ‘This is your home now.’ I didn’t have to do anything by myself if I wasn’t able to,” he said. “They [Bailey House] were there for me when I wasn’t there for me.”

Bailey House, a Manhattan-based nonprofit organization that houses and serves people living with H.I.V./AIDS celebrated its 20th birthday in October. In 1983, a group of clergy, Greenwich Village business owners and gay and lesbian activists established the organization as a reaction to the new, devastating disease that was wrecking the lives of community members, rendering them homeless and poor and without adequate medical assistance.

Housing is a fundamental human right, the organization believes, and without stable and safe residences, people living with H.I.V./AIDS cannot access essential resources such as healthcare.

“Here [at Bailey House], people can at least live independently and die with dignity,” said Quattrochi, chief executive officer of Bailey House, Inc. “It doesn’t matter if you’re going to live 60 years or 10 days,” she said. “You should live in a place you call home.”

Initially raising money to rent apartments for those in need, Bailey House eventually purchased its own building, what is now the Bailey-Holt House, located at 180 Christopher St. in Greenwich Village. This is where Hughes lives, along with 43 other clients. Founded in 1986, it was the first AIDS residence of its kind in the U.S.

Residents live in private rooms, with attached bathrooms and refrigerators to store medicine and snacks, and receive 24-hour support from staff. They enjoy their three daily meals in a cafeteria overlooking the Hudson River, and have the luxury of lounging in the building’s rooftop garden whenever they wish.

“Costs are astronomical in this area — this place is very reasonable, very affordable,” said Ralph Mauro, 51, a former Village barkeeper and resident at the Bailey-Holt House since last New Year’s Eve. Clients, who are all referred to Bailey House through the New York City H.I.V./AIDS Service Administration, pay 30 percent of their monthly income for their subsidized housing, he explained.

“Considering they have a limited budget, they’re doing a great job,” Mauro said of the Bailey House staff.

The percentage of clients’ incomes, drawn mostly from Social Security payments and disability insurance, amounts to less than 1 percent of Bailey House’s annual budget, said Quattrochi.

“I have to raise $1.7 million this year,” she said, adding that funding mostly comes from the New York State government, with additional support from special events, major donors and direct-mail fundraising.

Bailey House, Inc., which is worth $10 million, according to Quattrochi, has helped 700 people living with H.I.V./AIDS since its inception. Anyone is eligible for admission, as long as they meet a certain poverty level established by HASA, she said.

“Our clients, they come from all walks of life, all ethnic groups. There are people who’ve had major careers and doctoral degrees, and others who’ve had no formal education. The only thing they have in common is AIDS,” she said.

More than 65 percent of New Yorkers living with AIDS belong to low-income groups and need subsidized housing, Quattrochi said. Twenty-one years after the first cases of AIDS confronted the city, homelessness among people with H.I.V./AIDS remains a crisis, with certain groups — ex-offenders, women with children, undocumented immigrants and older adults — subject to higher risk, the organization says.

“I’m glad they have a Bailey House for people like me,” said Ruby Phillips, 53, a Bailey-Holt House resident since February 2003. “I just wanted a place to live — I didn’t want to be a burden on anyone.”

Phillips, who became homeless after her aging mother and caregiver died in 1995, received little assistance from her sisters, who were busy with their own lives, she said. Like Phillips, most Bailey House clients want to live without depending on anyone, although they need assistance in making treatment decisions, encouragement to adhere to those treatments and help in combating side effects, which Bailey provides for them.

As a leader in the field of AIDS housing, Bailey House feels it has a responsibility to share the best practices it has developed in the last 20 years. Through its Technical Assistance Program, the organization reaches out to H.I.V./AIDS service organizations throughout the U.S. and abroad, advising organizations in countries as far away as Africa, Japan, Italy and Pakistan, Quattrochi said.

In an ongoing expansion effort, the organization recently established Schafer Hall in East Harlem, which offers housing and support services to 30 single parents and their children, as well as 36 single adults over the age of 50. In addition, their Supportive Housing Apartment Program rents 90 apartments for clients in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens, housing a total of 188 people.

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