In what supporters hailed as a "bold step in the right direction for the care of AIDS patients," the San Diego Housing Commission Thursday unanimously approved a recommendation that would transform a city-owned duplex into a demonstration project providing temporary housing for AIDS patients.
The commission's decision was praised by those who have long maintained that the city is "lagging far behind" in the services it provides to AIDS victims.
"It's excellent what they did," said Terry Cunningham, director of the AIDS Assistance Fund. "The city has been lagging pretty far behind. This move will boost the morale of AIDS patients because it will show that the city does care."
The duplex is on Union Street near Laurel Street, and close to agencies in Hillcrest and North Park that provide support services for AIDS patients, said Elizabeth Morris, the Housing Commission's acting executive director.
As set up by the commission, as many as six patients will be allowed to live in the duplex. They will receive meals, transportation and other support services from the AIDS agency that wins the bid to provide the care.
The patients are expected to stay for up to four months, Morris said.
Depending on their financial condition, patients could pay about $600 a month in rent, or, if they qualify, would receive rent subsidies from the government, Morris said. The duplex currently rents for $2,000 a month.
The residents currently living in the duplex will be given a 60-day notice before they are required to move, Morris said.
In voting for the project, San Diego Mayor Maureen O'Connor said: "We can help in some of the areas we have jurisdiction in such as housing, but in the health services, the help has got to come from the federal government."
O'Connor has recently been criticized by gay activists for not pushing for more city funding of AIDS programs. When O'Connor gave her State of the City address at the Old Globe Theatre last month, hundreds of people demonstrated outside, demanding more funding for AIDS services.
"That was a pretty gutsy move by the city," said Glenn Allison, executive director of Episcopal Community Services. "I think the mayor realized . . . AIDS patients needed help and the city could help them. The city has taken responsibility."
"I think this action will spur more efforts countywide," he added.
If there was one surprise during Thursday's discussion, it was that the expected strong community opposition to the demonstration project failed to materialize, and the project was approved quietly.
"People are now learning what a terrible disease AIDS is," said David Miller, executive director of the Community Congress of San Diego. "They now realize that this is a great tragedy and have tremendous sympathy for the victims of AIDS."
Although the housing commission was praised for its action, Cunningham said that much more needs to be done to assist San Diego's growing AIDS population. As of a few weeks ago, the number of people diagnosed as having AIDS countywide was 727.
Cunningham said that a good model to follow would be the City of San Francisco, which has an elaborate system that cares for AIDS patients. He said that one program, called the Shanti Project, which cares for 74 patients a day, is supported by the City and County of San Francisco at the rate of nearly $500,000 a year.