Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

It's a house of hope

'Soft landing' for those diagnosed with HIV/AIDS

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Today, Daniel is celebrating his 53rd birthday.

Two years ago Daniel was in a coma suffering viral pneumonia. When he came to after 12 days, Daniel found out he had been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS.

Daniel needed a place to go which would help him both physically and emotionally. He found House of Hesed.

"I have no idea where I'd be living without them," Daniel said.

"Probably I'd be sick, feeling pity, and beating myself up. This place is great and it has good staff who are well trained.

"And they care about us."

House of Hesed was originally envisioned as a place for people with HIV/AIDS to die comfortably, but thanks to medical breakthroughs and new drug treatments during the last two decades it is now a house of hope.

The charitable organization, which first opened its doors in 1998, offers transitional housing for people with HIV/AIDS consistent with a Christian perspective of caring for anyone who needs it. Through the years it has helped dozens of people who might otherwise not only have no place to go, but also wouldn't have people helping them with the new physical and emotional journey their diagnosis has set them on.

Executive director Moe Feakes said she watched helplessly as her best friend died of AIDS in the early 1990s when treatment options were far more limited.

Later, in 1997, Feakes said after she and others realized there were many people with HIV/AIDS stuck in hospitals or rooming houses with no other place to go.

"Our original vision was as a hospice, but then we did a needs analysis in the HIV community and found they needed a transition house for people coming out of hospital and to continue convalescing before going into the community," she said.

"Being diagnosed with HIV can be shocking. This place offers a nice soft landing."

The organization says Hesed is a Hebrew word which describes "the eternally loyal, lavish, extravagant, unrestrained, compassionate, merciful love of our Father God."

Hesed's mission is to provide a roof over the head of people living with HIV/AIDS and sharing "mercy, hope, dignity, and peace."

Feakes said it was tough emotionally in the early days of Hesed because about two to three of their residents died each year. The house is big enough to accommodate 10 people at a time, all with individual bedrooms.

"Now it has been four or five years since we had an HIV death here," she said.

Feakes also said they help people negotiate the plethora of doctor appointments and pharmaceutical consultations they need.

"We make sure everybody gets their meds properly and on time," she said.

"We attend all doctor appointments or we arrange to get them there."

Former board chairman Harold Jantz was also there at the beginning of Hesed. He said they realized pretty fast that shelter was needed for people living with HIV/AIDS.

"We were able to get support to buy a house," Jantz said, saying the organization's first house was on Langside Street for six residents.

"Later on, we realized the house wasn't adequate enough for what we needed. I worked with the Winnipeg Housing and Homelessness Initiative to get a larger space and we found one."

To pay for the cost of its 24/7 staffing, food, bills, renovations and maintenance, Hesed receives 30 per cent of its funding from employment and income assistance, but the remaining 70 per cent comes fully from the generosity of donors. In recent years it has also received support from foundations to put in a wheelchair ramp, intercom, and stairlift.

Jantz said Hesed helps the people who, for whatever reason, have nowhere else to stay.

"We give support and structure and solidity to people," he said.

"House of Hesed provides a homelike setting. And it's a really friendly homelike setting."

Daniel is reaching milestones now that not too long ago seemed unattainable.

"I've found I gained weight for the first time in a year," he said.

"I've been able to get my life levelled off and my health a lot better. They help me take care of my health. It's all just a matter of taking care of myself. And they give emotional support as well.

"I'm glad I have the House of Hesed to support me in each step of my recovery."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 24, 2012 B4


Updated on Saturday, November 24, 2012 at 11:28 AM CST: adds fact box

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