SEATTLE — For 26 years, Virginia Mason’s Bailey-Boushay House in Seattle’s Madison Valley has been treating people with HIV. It’s a sanctuary of familiarity to 400 clients who need medicine and specialty care.
Now, there’s something new – beds. At night, it becomes the first overnight shelter specifically for people who are HIV positive and homeless.
Its opening comes at a good time as health officials across the country are reporting increased cases of HIV in people living in homeless camps.
“We all have a common threat,” said Nick Casad, who has HIV, and until last week had been living in his truck for nearly 2 years.
“My rent went up to $1,000 a month, I couldn't afford to pay that so I started living in my truck,” Casad said. He is now spending his nights at Bailey-Boushay.
With an infusion of a one-time payment of $250,000 from the City of Seattle, Bailey-Boushay can convert its day center into an overnight shelter with cots and dividers for privacy. It can also turn small meeting rooms into bedrooms.
To be eligible to stay, clients must be registered with the Seattle/King County Department of Health as a person with HIV, be of low income and are homeless. There’s already more of a need then beds available.
“Considering that we have 130 homeless and only 50 beds, what we try to do first was to prioritize people – a) living on the streets and b) medically vulnerable,” said Matt Williams, Director of Outpatient Services for Bailey-Boushay.
“It’s been a lot better than the street, so much better,” Casad said.
Clients have medical help available, a laundry room, hot showers, hot meals, TV and video games and the safety of a community of like-minded people. People with HIV who live on the street and in encampments are particularly vulnerable because they often carry a cocktail of drugs for their HIV treatment.
“When they come (into camps) with their medications and other people see them, they are often targeted and assaulted,” Williams said. “Other people steal those medications in the hope there may be a narcotic in that."
Seattle/King County Department of Health is seeing an “uptick in a cluster of new HIV diagnoses among heterosexuals who inject drugs and living homeless,” said spokesperson Hilary Karasz. She said some of those exchange sex and are located in north Seattle. The current cluster case count is 14.
The sharing of needles is the blame. Casad has seen it first-hand.
“I’ve seen people just pull needles out and use them right after somebody else used them, not even washing them or cleaning them or anything, and not even really caring,” Casad said.
At Bailey-Boushay, needle exchange kits are available to anyone who wants one, believing harm reduction is the way to go. City funding for the overnight portion of the shelter will last through 2019.
Casad won’t be going back to his truck anytime soon.
“I like feeling secure and safe when I fall asleep at night, not feeling like somebody's there to attack me," he said.