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CRENSHAW : Funding Problems Blamed in Closure of Shelter for AIDS Patients

March 09, 1995|ERIN J. AUBRY

Citing a lack of financial support and a shortage of donors, the Gathering Place, the only AIDS drop-in center serving the primarily black and Latino South-Central population, closed last week.

The center, at 3870 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., was considered an oasis for AIDS and HIV patients who also wrestled with poverty, homelessness, prison records and unemployment, Director Graciela Morales said.

"How can you close an agency whose services are so needed?" Morales asked as she packed boxes in her office and talked to visitors and well-wishers. "We're just in shock here," she said.

The Sisters of St. Joseph Ministerial Services, which founded and operated the Gathering Place, decided that the center was not receiving enough outside financial support to remain open.

"For the past several months, we've been operating at a deficit," said Sister Margaret Murray, chairwoman of St. Joseph's 13-member board of directors. "We are very sorry to see it go, but the situation had been getting worse and we could no longer subsidize it." She said the organization had put $250,000 into the center.

Morales strongly opposed the decision. She said it was too sudden and insisted that the prospects of keeping the Gathering Place open were good. Three private and state grants totaling $250,000 were pending, Morales said, and she was applying for more.

"Of course our funding was tight, like a lot of other community-based places, but we would've made it," said Morales, who had been running the center on a budget of $10,000 a month.

Founded in 1990, the Gathering Place provided AIDS and HIV patients with a homey atmosphere and free services that included hot meals, massage therapy, art classes, clothing, housing and job referrals, transportation, and health and nutrition counseling. Most of its black and Latino clientele--about 20 to 25 a day--were homeless, and others were parolees, women and children, and recovered drug and alcohol abusers.

In August, the center moved from an aging medical building across Buckingham Road to an airy, refurbished space outfitted with a lounge, TV, kitchen and other amenities.

The closing should not have happened this way, said longtime volunteer Herman Francis, who was taking to clients on March 1, the center's last day of operation.

"We're not about statistics or anything else but helping clients. I gave love, I gave help and I gave my ear a lot of times," Francis said.

Morales said she plans to open at the same location within a month, but as an independent nonprofit agency. She is working on a partnership with Imagine, an AIDS support organization, to not only get the center back on its feet but add a crucial element to its services: child care. Many of the Gathering Place's clients came from the nearby T.H.E. Clinic, a clinic primarily serving women.

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