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Friendly Home for AIDS' Victims : Health care: Ariel House is one of the nonprofit shelters providing care for AIDS sufferers who can no longer care for themselves.

January 21, 1992|LISA R. OMPHROY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Seven months ago, Terry Davis lived out of a downtown San Diego mission and faced the double tragedy of being homeless while suffering from AIDS.

"I felt just like stepping in front of a car," says Davis, 26. "I had no medications, no energy at all. At night, I used to just try to find a place to curl up in just to avoid the cold and hope that nothing would happen to me."

But today, as he sits in the cozy, stuffed animal-filled bedroom he shares with another man with AIDS, Davis considers himself a lucky man.

"I feel much healthier now because I get medication, three meals a day, and I have a decent place to live," says Davis, who weighs about 100 pounds. "If I was still on the streets, I wouldn't be living right now."

Davis is a resident of Ariel House, a residential AIDS shelter on College Avenue that provides Davis and other men with housing, food and occasional donated clothes, as well as the round-the-clock attention their illnesses often require.

The home is one of five private houses in the county set up to provide hospice care for AIDS patients who can no longer care for themselves.

Ariel House and the other hospices opened about three years ago in response to the gradual increase in the number of people in San Diego County with AIDS who needed a place to stay where they could have round-the-clock care, said Binnie Callender, chief of the San Diego County Department of Health Services Office of AIDS Coordination said.

"People implemented these (homes) from the beginning because there was a shortage of places for people with AIDS who (didn't) have anywhere else to go or (didn't) need the acute care services that hospitals provide," Callender said. "No one was around to fill that need, so people started to try to deal with the problem on a grass-roots level."

The nonprofit houses were set up by private individuals determined to provide housing to AIDS patients.

In 1988, when the first shelters opened, there were 528 diagnosed cases of AIDS in the county, said Dr. Donald Ramras of the county Department of Health Services. In 1990, the number of people with AIDS had risen to 629. Although 1991 figures were still being tabulated, they are expected top previous years, Ramras said.

One of those who responded to the plight was Lois Sheldon, who opened a shelter to care for AIDS patients who could no longer care for themselves.

Sheldon, executive director of Christian Social Concerns Inc., an umbrella group of local churches concerned with the fight against AIDS, opened Ariel House in September of 1988.

Sheldon, who worked in hospice care after retiring from a medical technology job in 1985, says she had been thinking of opening a hospice for several years after the death of her father from cancer. She says she decided to join the AIDS fight because churches were "not doing enough for the AIDS situation, and it was frustrating."

The final push came after a woman, whose son died of the disease, rang Sheldon's doorbell and challenged her, as a Christian, to open the shelter. "I finally said to myself, 'Here we have a real crisis, let's get involved.' I wanted to help the community as well as do something for myself spiritually."

Sheldon began speaking at local churches on behalf of the cause and eventually received a $10,000 donation from a parishioner to help her get the project started.

With the money, she leased a house and recruited a staff. The shelter was moved twice (once because neighbors objected to the AIDS hospice) before settling in its current College Avenue location.

Today, Ariel House helps about 75 men a year approach death with dignity, or allows them to be taken care of until they are well enough and feel like leaving, Sheldon says.

The state-licensed house costs about $100,000 a year to run, and the county grants a stipend of $30,000 to help out with utility and food bills, but the rest of the money comes from donations from various sources, Sheldon says. Patients pay up to $500 a month to stay at the shelter, which can accommodate 13 men. Since the men cannot work because of illness, their entire rent is footed by Social Security with medical expenses and private nursing costs absorbed by Medicare.

Ariel House has been praised by county AIDS workers as the best of the five residential AIDS Shelters in San Diego County--a few of which they have labeled as "institutional."

It is seen by many of them as less of a final stop before death, and more of a place to feel welcomed and loved--mostly because of one person, Ariel House manager Joyce Simpson, who residents have dubbed the "Mother Teresa of San Diego" because of her patience and understanding. Simpson joined the staff of volunteers when the house opened, and became a manager in February, 1989.

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