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Housing for Formerly Homeless AIDS Patients Needs $1M to Reopen After Sandy

By Andrea Swalec | November 16, 2012 8:54am

MANHATTAN — When the Hudson River rushed over the West Side Highway toward a supportive housing facility on Christopher Street during Hurricane Sandy, resident Valida Henry felt safe.

The Bailey-Holt House had no light, heat or electricity, but Henry had survived worse.

Now 64, Henry was intermittently homeless starting at age 9. For decades, she was addicted to heroin and cocaine. Then, in 2000, she was diagnosed with AIDS.

"I'm a resilient individual," said the vivacious woman with short, salt-and-pepper hair.

But when staff told Henry and Bailey-Holt's 43 other full-time residents they would need to flee the water-filled 180 Christopher St. building for higher ground, Henry's anxiety kicked in.

"You love these people and you want to be with them," she said about her resistance to being separated from her neighbors.

Hurricane Sandy caused structural damage to the West Village facility that serves formerly homeless people living with HIV and AIDS, necessitating as much as $1 million in repairs and scattering its residents across the city.

Bailey House, Bailey-Holt's parent organization that operates multiple housing facilities, is receiving donations online to help cover the cost of structural repairs and overhauls to the electric and heating systems.

So far, it has raised $175,000, including donations from the Elton John AIDS Foundation and the MAC AIDS Fund, plus a fundraiser held at a Giorgio Armani store, said Bailey House's chief development officer, Cathy Krugman.

"We have a lot of work ahead of us," Bailey House's chief operating officer Hans Desnoyers added.

Opened in 1986, Bailey-Holt was the nation's first residence for people with HIV and AIDS. The six-story facility provides comprehensive health and social services, including for residents dealing with trauma, drug addiction and mental illness.

"These are people who struggled through enormous adversity before Sandy," Krugman said.

When the storm hit, Bailey House had evacuated only a handful of residents with urgent health needs.

"Nobody expected the severity of the storm, or that the Hudson River was coming in the side door," Krugman said.

Floodwaters filled the building's basement and climbed two feet up the walls of the first floor, where building offices are located.

Three days later, on Nov. 1, the facility evacuated the remaining residents.

"We knew by then that nothing was coming back on," Krugman said.

Ten employees, many of whom worked for 72 hours with little rest, sent residents to other supportive housing facilities, friends' and family members' homes, and apartments Bailey House rents across the city for clients.

Bailey House employees have been making house calls to provide residents with their usual services, but they can't replicate the crucial support residents gave each other, Krugman said.

"We need to bring their community back together."

Henry, who is staying in Harlem with her ex-husband, said she profoundly misses the friends she made at the residence over the last six years.

"[Bailey-Holt] is my home, my source of stability," she said. "It's been emotionally devastating to lose it."

Eight-year Bailey-Holt resident Larry Branch, 50, also said he misses his home base. He's staying with a friend in Brooklyn and wishes he had brought with him a framed photograph of his son, who died of a heart attack in his early 30s.

"I really miss being at Bailey House," he said. "I'm comfortable in my room."

Despite the enormity of the needed repairs, Krugman is hopeful her organization will be able to raise the needed funds and reopen by the end of the year. She said Bailey House has been told the work can be completed and residents can move back in by the end of December.

"We want to have a New Year's Eve party there," she said.