House of Ruth, the only local organization committed to ending homelessness among people living with HIV and AIDS, is happy to announce it has been selected to receive a Permanent Supportive Housing grant through funding from the American Rescue Plan. Awarded by the City of Louisville, the grant of $6,517,259 will be used to build 40 units of permanent supportive housing for House of Ruth clients and their families. It is the largest single grant received in the organization’s 30-year history.
“We are beyond excited and grateful to be selected for this grant,” said Lisa Sutton, Executive Director of House of Ruth. “We have been planning to build new units for years so to finally secure the funds to make it happen is such a wonderful development. As our clients are aging, there’s an increased demand for housing. This grant will go a long way to meet that demand.”
Recent research from the National Alliance to End Homelessness found that one homeless person costs taxpayers approximately $35,000 per year. This comes from increased use of crisis services such as hospitals, jails, and emergency shelters. In contrast, the cost of putting one person in supportive housing is about half that at just over $17,000 per year. Housing for 40 HIV-positive adults equals an annual savings of $680,000 for our community.
“Beyond the impact on our community as a whole, it’s important to consider the impact on the individuals who will be living in the units as well,” said Sutton. “Housing is critical for people with HIV/AIDS, especially since they’re living longer, thanks to breakthroughs in treatments. Without housing, it’s difficult for them to focus on medical care and taking their medication—and sadly, missing only a few doses can have dire consequences. This new housing equates to lives saved and you can’t put a price tag on that.”
As the White House declares monkeypox (MPX) a public health emergency, it’s important that we’re all careful about how we communicate information about the virus. While it’s true that currently MPX is primarily affecting gay men, they are not the only ones contracting this debilitating disease. It is transmitted from person to person through close contact, which means without taking the proper precautions, we are all potentially at risk.
We found this excellent interview by NPR’s Ari Shapiro with Gregg Gonsalves of the Yale School of Public Health discussing how we all can better communicate about monkeypox, without stigmatizing gay men. We hope you’ll take a moment to listen or read…
Money’s tight for our families and with the school year fast approaching they just need a little assistance to keep on track. If you’d like to help, we’re accepting gift cards and donations of supplies for the school year! Click the link below for a full list of what we need and how to give.
Here’s what our families need:
Loose Leaf Paper (Wide-ruled and College-ruled)
Pencil Boxes and Pencil Pouches
Your donation can mean the difference between setbacks and success for our families. You can drop off your gift cards and supplies at the House of Ruth office at 607 East St. Catherine Street.
Last year, we shared the story of two of our clients: long-term survivors Paul and Matt. Paul and Matt recounted their experiences in the early days of the epidemic: Paul was diagnosed in 1984, and Matt was diagnosed in 1994. They represented the face of HIV at the start of the epidemic: young, gay, and white.
Over the last forty years, the “face” of the HIV pandemic has changed dramatically. When Glade House first opened in 1986, an AIDS diagnosis came with a life expectancy of about 15 months. The first AIDS treatment wasn’t introduced until a year later. This is why Glade House was initially referred to as a hospice for young gay men.
More people are living with HIV than ever before
Over time, advancements in HIV treatments drastically reduced the number of AIDS-related deaths. Notably, in 1996, highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) was introduced. The following year AIDS-related deaths were reduced by nearly half. If HIV is diagnosed early and treated consistently, it is considered a chronic condition, with no discernible impact on life expectancy. People with HIV who receive treatment are living full lives, and now more than half the people living with HIV in the U.S. are over 50.
Today, new diagnoses are surpassing HIV/AIDS-related deaths, meaning there are more people currently living with HIV than ever before: roughly 38 million people across the globe.
Declines in new infections are not consistent across communities
New HIV infections have declined significantly since the start of the epidemic. Still, 34,800 people were newly infected with HIV in the U.S. in 2019, and declines in new infections are not consistently seen across all communities.
Minority communities have been disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS. Although Black and Hispanic people account for 31% of the U.S. population, these communities represent 65% of new HIV infections. In 2019, the rate of new HIV diagnoses for Black people was 8 times that of white people. Now, more Black people are living with HIV than any other racial or ethnic group.
Black and Latina women are particularly affected. The CDC noted that between 2015 and 2019, HIV incidence decreased among men, but remained stable among women. In 2019, Black women accounted for over half of new HIV diagnoses among women (55%) and Latina women accounted for 18%. By comparison, white women accounted for only 22%.
While the majority of people living with HIV are over 50, teens and young adults under 35 account for 57% of new HIV diagnoses. Most young people are infected through sexual transmission. Those aged 13-24 account for about 21% of infections, while those aged 25-34 account for about 36%.
In the U.S., new HIV infections are not consistent across regions: the South consists of over half of new HIV infections. Nine of the top ten states with the highest rates of new infections are located there. Metropolitan areas account for nearly 80% of new infections — Miami, Orlando, and Atlanta are the most affected.
Access to treatment has improved, but not enough
Though there is still no cure, when HIV is treated consistently with antiretroviral therapy, the viral loads in the body can become undetectable. At that point, the risk of sexual and perinatal transmission is minimal (less than 1%). Thankfully, the use of ART during pregnancy to prevent transmission to infants has increased significantly, and the number of perinatal HIV infections in the U.S. has declined by more than 95% since the early 1990s.
While a million people in the U.S. have HIV, nearly one in seven do not know they are infected. That means about 15% of people aren’t being treated and are not aware of the risk of transmission. Additionally, a staggering percentage of infected people do not have access to treatment. Well over 60% of people who have HIV are not being treated — a percentage that worsens significantly for younger people. Among HIV+ people aged 25-34, only 23% are controlling the illness.
HIV/AIDS in Louisville
HIV is found in every zip code in Jefferson County and cuts across all socio-economic categories, genders, and age groups. Our clients are among the most vulnerable people in our community. They are the most at-risk for HIV infections and have the worst AIDS outcomes.
As the face of HIV has changed, over the last 30 years House of Ruth has evolved to best serve the community affected by this disease. We say that we are “Unlocking Hope,” because, for our clients, a safe and stable home is the first step towards treating their HIV and building a better future.
Your support changes the lives of people living with HIV and their families who are homeless, at risk of losing their homes, or need financial help. Please, consider donating to House of Ruth today to help us continue providing for those who need us.
Know your status!
Jefferson County has experienced an increase in HIV infection rates in the past few years. Knowing your HIV status is important, so you can begin treatment as early as possible.
House of Ruth serves people in Louisville living with HIV (and their families) who are homeless, at risk of losing their homes, or need financial help. Our mission is supported through a continuum of services: mental health counseling, assistance for basic needs, and perhaps most importantly, housing support.
It may not be obvious why an HIV advocacy organization focuses on housing, but it is mission-critical. Our program operates on the Housing First model, an approach to homeless assistance advocating that a stable place to live is the first step in breaking the cycle of homelessness.
The Cycle of Homelessness
There are over half a million people in the United States without homes. Homelessness is most often prompted by a sudden loss of income. About 40% of Americans are just one missed paycheck away from poverty — a percentage that grows significantly for households of color.
Homelessness and Employment
Once homeless, breaking the cycle is an immense struggle. One of the greatest challenges faced by people without homes is finding employment: Imagine securing a job without a permanent address to put on your application, reliable transportation, or even a place to shower. It’s estimated that about a quarter of the people in the U.S. who are homeless areemployed, but these are typically low-wage jobs that barely cover the cost of necessities, let alone the high (and ever-rising) cost of housing.
Homelessness, Mental Illness, and Substance Use
Additionally, many people struggling with homelessness also struggle with severe mental illness and substance use disorders. There are many reasons why homelessness and substances are connected. Recovering from addiction is a challenge for everyone, but even more so if the patient is unable to reliably access support programs for recovery. When people who use substances are viewed as undeserving of aid, and abstinence becomes a prerequisite of assistance, you can begin to see how difficult it can be to break free from this cycle.
Homelessness and HIV
Homelessness and HIV/AIDS are also closely linked. The high cost of medical care means that people living with HIV/AIDS are at a higher risk of homelessness than the general population: One 2021 study estimates that, in the United States, the average lifetime cost of HIV treatment could run between $420,285 (2019 US$) and $1,079,999. People with HIV/AIDS are also more likely than the general population to lose employment, either due to discrimination or because of frequent health-related work absences.
People without homes have higher rates of disabilities and debilitating diseases than the general population, including increased HIV infections. This can be due to intravenous drug use (needle sharing) and increased sexual risk-taking behavior, either because of untreated mental illnesses or unsafe and unstable living conditions. Homelessness is also linked to worse HIV/AIDS outcomes. Inconsistent hygiene, exposure, and the crowded environment of a shelter can all contribute to an increase in opportunistic infections, while inconsistent treatment for HIV/AIDS leads to more severe illness.
The Housing First Model at House of Ruth
Put yourself in the shoes of our clients: homeless and living with HIV/AIDS. What would your next step be if you didn’t know where to turn? House of Ruth works to first secure housing for our clients and their families. The services that we provide interrupt the cycle of homelessness by giving people a safe place to begin to heal and rebuild their lives.
House of Ruth manages three housing programs. Our Emergency Shelter, consisting of three beds, provides homeless people living with HIV/AIDS a safe and substance-free environment for up to 90 days. Our Short-Term Housing Program consists of 10 beds in a safe, substance-free community living facility for up to two years. Clients in our Short-Term Housing Program also get intensive case management and group and individual counseling. The goal of this program is for these individuals to become self-supporting.
Our Long-Term Housing Program offers safe and affordable housing to individuals and their families affected by HIV/AIDS. House of Ruth owns and maintains 17 single-family properties and has working relationships with community property managers throughout Louisville. Our Long-Term clients also get individualized case management, financial assistance, crisis intervention, behavioral health services, referrals, and more.
Housing First Works
The Housing First model recognizes that a safe place to live is a prerequisite for stability, not the other way around. That’s why organizations that operate on the Housing First model prioritize safe and stable housing for people experiencing homelessness. Each year, House of Ruth serves about 550 individuals. On average, 99% of clients who remain in our short-term housing for at least nine months stay housed and, when applicable, are able to successfully manage their addiction. About 88% of our short-term housing residents graduate from the program to more stable housing.
For our clients, home is the first step toward managing their HIV and building a stable, secure life. You can help people in our community who are living with HIV/AIDS by donating to House of Ruth today.
2022 marks three decades of House of Ruth and 30 years of serving people in our community affected by HIV/AIDS. As we reflect on our history, we’re remembering and recognizing some of the people who made such a difference to our organization, our work, and the fight against HIV/AIDS in Louisville and beyond.
Teresa Gordon was one such person. When House of Ruth was incorporated in August of 1992, our original mission was to help women with AIDS make funeral and childcare arrangements before their death.
Teresa was one of House of Ruth’s first clients. Teresa was a Louisville native who contracted HIV from her husband, Keith, in the late 1980s. Teresa gave birth to their daughter, Courtney (who was born with the disease) in 1989. Keith passed away in 1990 at age 29, and Courtney passed away in 1991 at age 23 months.
With four older children, Teresa turned to House of Ruth to help her plan for her family after her death, and for support in a unique and challenging situation. Through the loss of Keith and Courtney, Teresa’s ongoing illness, and denigration from the community, Teresa and her family suffered immensely. One article featuring Teresa mentioned that “Since being labeled as an AIDS family, vandals have egged Mrs. Gordon’s house and have broken windows and her son has been beaten.”
At House of Ruth, Teresa was able to secure myriad support services: everything from emergency financial assistance to counseling. Perhaps most importantly, at House of Ruth, Teresa found an accepting and non-judgmental atmosphere — and perhaps this helped drive Teresa to speak up, as she went on to be nationally recognized for her work as an AIDS advocate.
At the time, HIV/AIDS was stereotyped as a disease of homosexuality, but even more so, it was stereotyped as a disease of promiscuity. A woman contracting AIDS from her husband was unexpected, and Teresa’s unashamed and compassionate approach was disarming. She became an AIDS speaker and lecturer, educating thousands across the state by speaking at churches, schools, and civic organizations. For a time she acted as president of the Kentuckiana Peoples With AIDS Coalition. Teresa was a resource for other HIV/AIDS positive people, answering questions and welcoming other infected people into her home. Teresa even served on House of Ruth’s Board of Directors!
Teresa’s advocacy work led to national recognition. In 1995, Teresa was honored with a Family AIDS Network Award of Merit. This award recognized 63 people nationwide for providing exemplary caregiving to people with AIDS. That same year, she was one of three women recognized with the first Temple Shalom Tikkun Olam Award, referring to the Jewish concept of tikkun olam, meaning repair of the world. In 1996, Teresa, as well as her son and daughter, were featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show in an episode about showing compassion to people with AIDS.
In the years following Teresa’s diagnosis, she showed tremendous strength of character and energy even in the face of her disease. She educated thousands on the reality of AIDS, touched the hearts of people from all walks of life, and spoke out bravely against discrimination — but those who knew her remember her as so much more.
When Teresa was diagnosed in the early 90s, the doctors gave her six months to live. She passed away in 2002 at the age of 44. Her obituary in the Courier-Journal included a quotation from House of Ruth founder Sharon Cook: “Teresa was not her illness. Teresa was Teresa, a loving, giving person who had an illness. And she treated it that way. It was not the center of her life. When faced with a great tragedy in your own life, you can turn inward or you can turn outward. And she is definitely a person who turned outward and gave everything she had.”
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, JulieDriscoll, 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.”
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.
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.”
2022 will mark three decades of House of Ruth in Louisville, Kentucky. Over the years, House of Ruth’s services have evolved and expanded, but we’ve always been there for a vulnerable population: people in Louisville struggling with HIV/AIDS.
An Unmet Social Need: the Beginnings of House of Ruth
The founders of House of Ruth were high school (and lifelong) friends: Sharan Benton; Anne Bindner*; Liz Bindner*; Elizabeth Blandford, SCN; Sharon Cook; Sharon Gray, SCN; Rebecca Miles, SCN; and Marilyn Spink, SCN*. These eight women met while attending Presentation Academy in downtown Louisville, and four went on to become Sisters of Charity of Nazareth.
Each year these friends reconnected to spend time together and reflect on ways to give back. During the holiday season of 1991, they discussed an unmet social need in Louisville at that time: women with HIV/AIDS who were passing away, and their children who were left without a family.
House of Ruth was incorporated in August of 1992, initially helping women with HIV/AIDS make funeral and childcare arrangements before their death. House of Ruth was named for the biblical Book of Ruth, symbolizing love and mercy for all people. In our first year, House of Ruth served eight families. (In 2020, House of Ruth served over 600 families.)
A Permanent Home in Shelby Park
Since 1890, St. Matthews United Church of Christ was an institution in the Shelby Park neighborhood of Louisville. By the mid-90s, urban flight had made it difficult for the aging congregation to maintain their building on East Saint Catherine Street. When they decided to close, the church hoped to donate the building to an organization that would continue serving the Shelby Park community.
It was always important to the founders that House of Ruth have a physical location, but they had been bouncing between rental spaces for about six years. The tremendous gift of 607 E. St. Catherine has been home to House of Ruth since 2000.
Housing First: Interrupting the Cycle of HIV and Homelessness
HIV and homelessness have always been intertwined: The high cost of housing and medical care means that people living with HIV/AIDS are at a higher risk of homelessness than the general population. Additionally, people without homes have higher rates of HIV infections and worse health outcomes.
For years, House of Ruth had been helping to support women with HIV, but by the late 90s, the need to interrupt this cycle was increasingly evident. In 1999, House of Ruth decided to begin purchasing single-family properties.
Over the next several years, we acquired over a dozen properties, and in 2018, we built a new construction duplex in Shelby Park. Now, we own 17 single-family properties and administer a subsidized rental contract for roughly 35 additional households.
In 2001, House of Ruth stepped in to help another Louisville nonprofit, Community Health Trust . Since the mid-80s, Community Health Trust managed Glade House, a 5,500 square foot shelter in old Louisville was a place for young gay men with HIV to go to die. House of Ruth acquired the struggling Glade House, which is now the longest continuously run shelter in the U.S. exclusive to people with HIV or AIDS.
Glade House, which had only served men with HIV/AIDS, and House of Ruth, which had only served women with HIV/AIDS, now became a haven for anyone affected by the disease. Glade House has three emergency shelter beds for this vulnerable group and ten beds comprising our short-term housing program.
Expanding and Evolving Services
In addition to shifting our focus to housing, House of Ruth has evolved and expanded services to meet our clients’ needs. Some key services we offer are:
TARC tickets assistance to help clients to get to medical appointments.
Back-to-school support to ensure that children are prepared for each school year.
Rental and utility assistance to keep our clients housed in times of financial crisis. With the dramatic increase in housing and utility costs, we’ve seen a critical and ever-growing demand for this kind of financial support.
A food pantry was added several years ago when we recognized that many of our clients were simply hungry.
House of Ruth’s on-staff social workers offer group counseling and mental health sessions. This helps assess, diagnose, and treat our clients struggling with mental illnesses.
Also in the last several years, we’ve hired housing navigators: full-time social workers who focus solely on finding affordable housing. It’s incredibly difficult to find housing, particularly affordable one-bedroom units, and housing navigators are a rising trend in HIV services.
House of Ruth also staffs two irreplaceable peer support specialists. These individuals are vitally important to our clients’ treatment, especially at Glade House.
House of Ruth has evolved significantly over the last three decades and will continue to adapt to meet the needs of our clients. Today, we’re encountering new challenges:
An uptick in HIV cases
For a long time, the number of families we serve has held steady with few noticeable spikes or dips. However, 2021 has marked a four-year high in newly diagnosed clients, and HIV cases are increasing in Jefferson County.
We can theorize why: COVID-19 has led to extreme isolation. The cessation of in-person therapy, as well as AA and NA meetings, means that many people spent months without their usual support system. Hopelessness and depression, we know, can lead to self-medication via substance abuse and risk-taking behavior.
Additionally, we are recognizing that many younger people have not been properly educated about HIV. It’s no longer the “media darling.” Many young people don’t understand what the disease is or how to avoid it, and others mistakenly believe it’s no longer a problem.
A changing population
Lack of education contributes to the persistent stigma and discrimination surrounding HIV. This can make it less likely for at-risk people to get tested, and more difficult for HIV+ people to access medical care. HIV is no longer a death sentence, and though it disproportionately impacts disadvantaged BIPOC, HIV exists in every zip code in our city.
Thankfully, great progress has been made in the field of HIV treatment, and people with HIV are now able to live long lives! Because our clients are living longer, their needs are shifting. HIV is quite hard on the body and can age people prematurely — especially if they haven’t received good medical treatment. Many find themselves aging rapidly without a strong support system.
Reminding our community why we matter
As we enter our 30th year, our greatest challenge is communicating the importance of our work. Many choose to ignore the struggles our clients face, but these struggles are complex and intertwined with others faced by our city and country. Homophobia, racial discrimination, the opioid crisis, healthcare costs, education — many societal issues contribute to (and are in turn impacted by) HIV and homelessness. House of Ruth is a safety net for those who have none.
Love and Mercy for All People
We’re likely a long way from a vaccine (or cure) for the complex disease of HIV. We’re also a long way from a fix for these societal challenges. But until there is a cure for HIV/AIDS, there is care. And as long as House of Ruth’s services are needed, we’ll be there to help. Once a place where sick people came to die, now House of Ruth is a place where Louisvillians living with HIV/AIDS come to live.
Please consider making a donation to House of Ruth: $30 for 30 years, or any amount.
Peer support specialists are essential to the mission of House of Ruth, providing invaluable and irreplaceable services. They help connect clients to the care they need, and most importantly, they offer encouragement and empathy.
What are Peer Support Specialists?
A peer support specialist is a professional with a unique perspective. Most commonly, a peer support specialist has a history of mental illness or substance use disorder, as well as training to guide and support others working through the same roadblocks. At House of Ruth, our peer support specialists relate to our clients’ unique challenges of HIV/AIDS and homelessness. With their experiences and training, they can expertly connect clients to the services they need.
Larry Clark has been a House of Ruth’s peer support specialist for three years. “Peer support specialists meet people where they are because we’ve been there,” Larry explains. He can relate to House of Ruth clients because of his HIV-positive status as well as his history of mental health issues and substance use disorder.
Now, after more than nine years of sobriety, Larry’s experiences allow him to model life after recovery. “My past allows me to connect individually with my clients,” Larry says. “By meeting them where they are, I can better guide them to what they need.” This can mean getting sick clients into regular care for their HIV/AIDS, connecting them with counseling services, and much more.
Becoming a peer support specialist
The requirements for becoming a peer support specialist vary from state to state. To become a peer support specialist in Kentucky, a candidate must:
Have a history of mental illness or substance use disorder;
Be able to demonstrate their successful recovery from these issues;
House of Ruth offers a spectrum of services for HIV/AIDS-positive individuals struggling with homelessness. Our housing services include short-term, emergency, and long-term housing programs. Both our short-term and emergency housing programs are contained within Glade House, a 5,500 square foot, 13-bedroom group home.
At large community shelters, residents typically sleep in an open room with many other people. This can be a dangerous situation for immunocompromised, HIV+ adults. House of Ruth’s three-bed emergency housing program provides a safe place for these individuals. Emergency housing clients can stay at Glade House for up to 90 days while receiving intensive case management designed to help them find stable housing.
Short-Term Housing Program
Glade House also holds ten short-term housing beds. For individuals who are homeless and HIV-positive, Glade House provides a safe, drug and alcohol-free community living environment. For up to two years, clients in the short-term housing program receive intensive case management as well as group and individual counseling. At the end of the program, graduating clients are self-supporting and able to get and maintain housing.
Larry provides peer support services to the clients staying in Glade House. During their stay, Larry helps clients heal, recover, and become self-sufficient. Larry’s support is individualized and varied. “It could be teaching clients how to be a good neighbor, or how to pay rent,” Larry says. “Or it could be teaching basic self-care skills. It’s really whatever the client needs to be successful.”
Once clients graduate from the short-term housing program and leave Glade House, Larry continues to check in every six months or so. If a client is struggling for any reason — for example, if they’ve gone through a personal loss and stopped getting care for their HIV/AIDS — Larry reconnects them with the services they need to ensure they maintain the health and stability they achieved at Glade House.
Long-Term Housing Program
Larry also supports about 30 long-term housing clients working towards the goal of owning their own homes. Alongside House of Ruth case managers, Larry helps clients access House of Ruth’s holistic wraparound services. Larry explains that this model has a high rate of success because it offers clients long-term care that is individual, thoughtful, and empathetic.
Peer to Peer Support: Inspiring Hope
As a peer support specialist, Larry also inspires hope in clients who are suffering. “We act as role models, first of all,” he says. Peer support specialists at House of Ruth model a life beyond homelessness, substance use disorder, mental illness, financial instability, and HIV/AIDS. For clients who are at their lowest, seeing the potential for a long and healthy life beyond their struggles can be the spark of hope that drives them forward. “They do all the work,” Larry says, “I just help show them that it’s possible.”
After three years at House of Ruth, there are several client success stories that stand out to Larry, and they all have something in common. These clients came to House of Ruth with severe AIDS, dangerously low T cell counts, and a viral load in the millions. For these clients, continuing on this path would be fatal, and they felt hopeless.
Now, Larry says, these clients are thriving in the community and their HIV is undetectable. This is the most gratifying part of his work: “I am blessed to see clients who come in very sick graduate from the program feeling healthy. They have a full life ahead of them.”
Larry considers these client success stories to be examples of what’s possible with the right care and compassionate support. “A lot of people don’t know how to get the care they need,” Larry says.
“My wish is that everyone in our community who needs these services knew to come to House of Ruth.”
You can inspire hope!
If you want to help House of Ruth’s mission to provide housing and support services for people with HIV/AIDS and their families who are homeless, at risk of losing their homes, or need financial help, please consider donating today.
Since 1992, House of Ruth has served families impacted by HIV/AIDS. We strive to support people in our community who are HIV/AIDS-positive, and their families, through a spectrum of services. From stable housing to back-to-school assistance, House of Ruth helps clients and their families work toward health and stability for life.
Long-time House of Ruth client LaTisa was six months pregnant when she learned that she was HIV-positive.
The Struggle of Addiction
Addiction was part of LaTisa’s life long before she tried drugs herself. Her mother smoked marijuana daily for as long as she could remember, before becoming addicted to prescription drugs. “I knew what the pills were,” LaTisa says, “because I matched them up to a magazine ad.”
When LaTisa was in her teens, her mother began using cocaine, and by the time LaTisa was in her mid-twenties, her mother had developed an addiction to crack. It was her mother who first gave LaTisa crack cocaine. “I remember her saying, ‘here, try this.’ I spent my whole paycheck on drugs the first day I tried crack.”
An HIV+ Diagnosis
Six years later, LaTisa had enough of her addiction. She went into rehabilitation at The Healing Place, and it was during her recovery that she became pregnant with her daughter. “It was my second or third doctor’s appointment after I found out I was pregnant,” LaTisa recalls, “and my doctor wanted to talk to me about my lab results without my daughter’s father. Then he told me I had HIV.”
LaTisa was overwhelmed with emotions at the diagnosis. “I was angry and scared,” she says. “I cried the whole day because I thought I was going to die.” LaTisa, like many, didn’t understand that it was possible to have a life with HIV. While she couldn’t pinpoint when or where she’d contracted the virus, LaTisa wanted to do everything she could to avoid passing the disease to her baby.
As soon as she was diagnosed, she went to The 550 Clinic (previously The WINGS Clinic), which is the local public health clinic for HIV patients. There she was given information and education on HIV and a referral to House of Ruth. Thankfully, taking HIV medication as prescribed throughout pregnancy reduces the rate of transmission from mother to baby to under 1%. “My HIV has always been undetectable, so I only had to take medication during my pregnancy,” LaTisa says. She remembers her daughter being tested several times, at birth, at six months, and again at 18 months. Each test came back negative.
Several years after LaTisa first entered The Healing Place, she was able to convince her mother to commit to sobriety as well.
How House of Ruth Helped
LaTisa has been a client of House of Ruth since she was diagnosed in 2003 and considers it an important part of her life and her children’s lives. She is appreciative of the sense of community that House of Ruth offers. “We went to many House of Ruth events as a family. It was always nice to spend time with other clients and get to know them.”
Camp Heart to Heart
For her children, House of Ruth referred LaTisa to Camp Heart to Heart, a yearly week-long summer camp for children ages 5-12 who have been impacted by HIV/AIDS. LaTisa’s daughter and son have attended Camp Heart to Heart every year. When she aged out of the camp, her daughter even returned as a camp counselor.
Another helpful service for LaTisa’s family was the House of Ruth Back-to-School program. Many of our client families expressed their frustrations that the expense of back-to-school shopping was a barrier to their children feeling prepared for the school year. The Back-to-School program began as a way to help families through the times of the year when finances are especially tight. From kindergarten – 12th grade, students receive a backpack filled with school supplies, as well as a gift card to purchase school clothes and shoes.
Housing and Support Services
When LaTisa briefly relapsed in 2016, she was grateful that she could be honest with the House of Ruth support system she’d known for so long. She placed her children with a friend she could trust while she worked hard to regain sobriety. House of Ruth helped the struggling family to pay outstanding bills, as well as provided Kroger cards and TARC tickets. When LaTisa was clean for good, House of Ruth helped her family to get onto the housing list. After a year of working on their credit, LaTisa and her husband were finally able to purchase a home of their own.
Life and a Family When HIV+
Years ago, when LaTisa worked as a drug counselor, she remembers the day a client of hers was diagnosed with HIV. “She was so sad that she cried all day, just like I had.” LaTisa couldn’t disclose that she was also HIV-positive but wanted so badly to comfort her client and tell her that she had the potential to live a full life, just like her. LaTisa was delighted when, later on, she saw that client at House of Ruth and they were able to reconnect and become friends.
LaTisa has raised a healthy family while HIV-positive and wishes more people were educated about the disease. None of her children nor her partner have HIV. “There’s life after an HIV diagnosis,” LaTisa says, “and soon, I hope, there will be a cure.”
18 years later, LaTisa’s daughter — the daughter whose conception brought about LaTisa’s HIV diagnosis — has been accepted to a university and is headed to college in the fall. She’s not quite sure what she wants to major in yet, but LaTisa bets she’ll decide on Business. “She wants to own her own business someday,” LaTisa says. “I’m just so proud of her.”
You can help families like LaTisa’s
In its first year, House of Ruth served eight families. Now, each year we serve hundreds of HIV/AIDS-positive people and their families within the Louisville community. If you’d like to help, please consider making a donation today.