Established in 1986, Glade House in Louisville was the first group home for people with HIV/AIDS in the region. Now, it remains the oldest continually running shelter of its kind in the country. Though much has changed, Glade House is as needed today as when its doors first opened nearly 40 years ago.
The beginnings of Glade House: Community Health Trust
1985 was without precedent. That year saw more AIDS diagnoses than all earlier years of the epidemic combined. It was also the year that Community Health Trust in Louisville, Kentucky acquired its 501c3 status and began planning to open Glade House.
Community Health Trust was the first AIDS advocacy organization in Kentucky. Founded by a group of Louisville-based activists, Community Health Trust offered compassionate support to people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. The Trust supported HIV/AIDS+ Kentuckians with services like life-saving medication assistance, health insurance continuation, emergency assistance, and many more programs.
Community Health Trust founders included activist Jack Kersey. Kersey, a realtor, was instrumental in furthering gay rights in Louisville, breaking down stereotypes, and promoting compassionate care for HIV/AIDS+ Kentuckians. He was famously the first Louisville man to come out as gay on television when he was featured on a WLKY segment in 1978. Kersey, along with his partner Charles Gruenberger, was instrumental in the establishment of Glade House when they donated the property in 1986.
The need: a place for AIDS patients to die
Glade House began as a hospice for people with AIDS during a time when there was no treatment and nowhere else to go.
The early days of HIV/AIDS were frightening and uncertain. At the time, AIDS patients had a life expectancy of about 15 months after diagnosis, and the first AIDS treatment wasn’t introduced until 1987. So when Glade House opened, there was little for new AIDS patients to do except wait to die.
Unfortunately, at that time HIV/AIDS was still considered a “gay disease” when being gay was hardly widely accepted. Activists who were there can recall stories of young men being abandoned by their families upon receiving a diagnosis, or of AIDS patients with no one to witness the signings of their wills. Many people still hypothesized that AIDS could be transmitted casually, and so AIDS patients were cruelly stigmatized. An HIV/AIDS diagnosis was lonely.
Kersey recalled the origins of Glade House in an interview: “One mother of a son living with AIDS came to me. She told me that her son was living in New York, becoming much sicker and wanted to come home. Sadly the father had rejected his son and did not want him in their home. This was one of many painful experiences at that time … The hospital wouldn’t keep them. Some were even sent out of state to die. Nursing homes wouldn’t take them. Many families had rejected their own. For these reasons, we opened Glade House.”
An open space in the forest
Glade House opened with six rooms in 1986 and was named Glade House. A glade — an open space in the forest — a quiet and peaceful place just for the dying.
The analogy of a glade, a space of quiet acceptance within a forest of loud rejection, was underscored by a negative local response. Shortly after Glade House opened, the local neighborhood association released a statement in opposition, endorsed by the Old Louisville Neighborhood Council and The Louisville Inter-Neighborhood Council.
Glade House grows
Nevertheless, Glade House endured and expanded. In 1990, a part-time manager was hired. In 1991, a condemned adjacent structure was purchased. (This new building was called “Glade House II.”) In Glade House I, bedrooms were upstairs and community areas were on the ground floor. In Glade House II, bedrooms were built downstairs, so when the two buildings were joined in 1993, residents with limited mobility could access the facilities without climbing stairs.
Throughout the 90s, Community Health Trust continued working to meet the changing needs of Glade House residents and the growing demand for services for HIV/AIDS+ people in our community.
House of Ruth assumes Glade House
In late 2000, it was becoming difficult for Community Health Trust’s small staff to give Glade House and its residents the attention they needed and deserved. The Trust approached House of Ruth to discuss acquiring Glade House. House of Ruth’s Executive Director at the time, Julie Driscoll, noted that it was no small undertaking for House of Ruth, but that the board and staff agreed that continuing Glade House was a fulfillment of House of Ruth’s mission.
Founder Jack Kersey said of the transition: “the needs and demands presented by this illness have changed. In the beginning, volunteers provided for the needs. As the numbers have grown and AIDS has changed, a professional staff can best provide services today.” He continued, “I think we’re fortunate that the professional, committed staff at House of Ruth will be guiding this mission.”
Glade House today
Since House of Ruth assumed Glade House over two decades ago, we’ve seen many changes. For AIDS patients, a diagnosis is no longer a death sentence, and so Glade House is no longer a place where the sick come to die.
Now, Glade House comprises two housing programs. Our Emergency Shelter offers three beds for homeless individuals who have HIV/AIDS. Emergency Shelter residents often stay around 90 days. Our Short-term Housing program offers ten people who are homeless and HIV-positive a clean communal living environment for up to two years.
Residents of both programs benefit from intensive case management, group and individual counseling, and support in becoming self-sufficient and securing safe and stable housing. Glade House is staffed around the clock and supervised by licensed social workers. Residents work with peer support specialists who have also experienced homelessness and HIV, and they work to support each other within this caring environment. For Louisvillians with HIV who are homeless, Glade House can be step one in a journey towards a new life.
Different needs, enduring challenges
While AIDS is no longer a death sentence, one of the most devastating issues faced by the original Glade House residents is still faced by Glade House residents today: stigma.
Homophobia and transphobia still lead people to reject HIV+ family members. Racism and classism lead people to overlook the systemic issues leading to homelessness, intravenous drug use, the disproportionately higher rate of new HIV infections in non-white people, and the prohibitive cost of healthcare.
Many are also unaware of the connection between homelessness and HIV: Homelessness increases the risk of an HIV infection, and people with HIV are more likely to experience homelessness. At the same time, homeless shelters can be unsafe for HIV/AIDS patients susceptible to opportunistic infections, not to mention the increased risk of assault on gay, lesbian, and transgender people. Just like in 1986, our Glade House residents sometimes have nowhere else to go.
Loving, caring, understanding service
Glade House was created to meet the needs of a small, specific group of suffering. Over the last 40 years, thankfully, the need to offer young AIDS patients a home in which to die has lessened considerably. However, the need for Glade House — a space of quiet acceptance within a forest of loud rejection — continues, as does the legacy of its founders. As Jack Kersey said when House of Ruth assumed management in 2001, “The staff at House of Ruth will provide loving, caring, understanding service to the (residents) at Glade House. This was our goal from the beginning.”