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the long road to a healthy home

From shelter to hospital to supportive housing, Redge was making funeral arrangements prior to receiving a home.

Before getting the call to move into McLaren Housing’s Howe Street building, Redge had bought his funeral package. Now, one month after receiving supportive housing, he is healthy, happy and planning for a future.

Redge has been living with HIV since 1982, before the virus even had a name. He was officially diagnosed in 1994, and started treatment in 1996 when the first HIV drugs became available. By then he had already gone to 119 funerals for people who had succumbed to the virus. Still healthy, Redge and his wife, who had also tested positive, decided to try and have children. Two healthy babies later, the family spent the next 15 years living in Alberta while Redge worked as a construction project manager.

In 2011, the family stayed in Canmore, Alberta and Redge moved to British Columbia to seek what he thought would be better health care. Eighteen months ago he ended up homeless, staying in an emergency shelter. Redge put in an application to McLaren Housing, but it would be six months until a unit would be available.

Biding his time, Redge continued to stay in a shelter; this unstable environment further compromised his health. All of his belongings had to be locked up and his medication carried with him, or risk being stolen. In addition, his nutritional needs were not being met, as he was not always able to eat the food he needed to stay healthy. With no community or connections, Redge was also very isolated. All of these factors, along with the related stress and worry, resulted in a serious decline in his overall physical health and mental well-being. He fell ill and had to be hospitalized.

While in hospital, Redge experienced further medical complications and he didn’t think he would live long enough to move into his Howe Street home. “Three months ago I bought a funeral package because I thought it was over. But something in me clicked, and I thought this has to stop.” Six more medical appointments and five hospitalizations later, Redge was well enough to move into McLaren Housing, a building with 110 units of housing and supports for people who were homeless and living with HIV. He has since taken control of his own health, reducing medication and focusing on his nutritional needs. Meeting fellow residents, Redge has started to form new friendships and connect with others who are HIV positive.

He has also found an excellent new doctor who has encouraged him to be his own health advocate. “When I was in shelter, I was in hospital every two days. Now that I have housing, my health is stable and I haven’t been to the hospital. There is a huge financial savings by having me here.” When factoring in costs like hospital stays and emergency services, supportive housing saves the healthcare system millions of dollars each year. It costs $55,000 a year to leave a person on the street compared to only $37,000 a year to provide housing with support services. 1

When asked where he would be if he didn’t have housing Redge said, “hospital or shelter, maybe even palliative care, but one month after moving here I’ve had 100% improvement and I’m still getting better. I haven’t stopped smiling for a long time.” Supportive housing has given Redge personal control over his health and a chance at a future. “I’ll never be homeless again. Once you stabilize and remove marginalization you’re able to rebuild and make proper decisions. I’ve been there, done it, not doing it again.”

Besides focusing on his health, Redge is planning on going back to university. He has begun teaching other residents in the building about the impacts of nutrition on health and he is mentoring young people through the company he worked with for twenty years. Redge also sees more family time in his future. With a wide smile he said, “I know now I will have a rocking chair in front of a fireplace, spending time with my future grandchildren, my doctor promised me that.”

About Howe Street
Howe Street provides 110 units of safe, supportive housing for people living with HIV/AIDS who were homeless or at risk of homelessness, through a partnership between McLaren Housing Society, the Province of BC, the City of Vancouver and Streetohome Foundation. Residents receive access to health management and wellness programs, life skills programs demonstrating nutrition, housekeeping and budgeting; and links to case managers, education and employment programs.

1 – 2008 CARMA Study and 2008 Calgary Homelessness Foundation Cost of Homelessness Study