Clare Housing, 929 Central Avenue NE, was recently awarded the 2019 Circle of Excellence Award by the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS). The award was presented Dec. 6 by DHS Commissioner Jodi Harpstead.
The award is given to organizations that show the ability to provide shelter, food, and referrals to resources for Minnesotans in need of assistance, while also aligning with the goals of DHS.
Built on a foundation of access to housing and health care for everyone, Clare Housing has served HIV and AIDS residents in their Northeast Minneapolis building since 2005. With at least 82% of their residents coming from a history of homelessness, the program strives to eliminate inequalities in housing and health care while promoting social justice.
When Clare Housing first opened its doors, the residents who populated their housing units needed compassionate, end of life care, which was necessary at the time with the stigma, lack of resources, and inability for people to access medical care on their own. As the medical world advanced, the needs of the HIV and AIDS population began to change.
“In the 1990s, Minnesota started to follow a national trend, where HIV was starting to disproportionately impact communities of color, extremely low income individuals, and folks who traditionally did not have access to housing, care, support, and education,” said Chuck Peterson, executive director. “We saw an upswing in the numbers of infections in those communities. That really was the impetus to embrace what was Clare Housing’s original mission.”
Now housing residents in 214 affordable housing units, Clare Housing uses several funding sources such as Section 8, Housing Opportunities for People With AIDS (HOPWA), county and state waiver programs and other sources that enable residents to not only live in the building, but access necessary resources to keep them stable. Clare Housing staff prioritize those who are most vulnerable and in need.
Clare Housing has 85 employees and operates seven sites around the Twin Cities. It has 68 housing units in Northeast between its Central Avenue location and at Marshall Flats, 2525 2nd Street NE.
Once a resident moves into the building, referrals and goal plans are coordinated by the on-site supportive services manager. By addressing other barriers that the resident may likely have such as mental health and chemical dependency issues and past trauma, the resident’s ability to access care becomes more viable once their housing is secured.
“Clare Housing understands the connection between housing and health care access, and they have the statistics to back it up,” said Harpstead at the awards ceremony.
“We make person-centered plans to figure out what people’s goals are, and what barriers might be there to meeting those goals,” said Michelle Boyer, Claire Housing’s director of supportive housing. “It is really hard to manage the disease when homeless. It is too stressful, and too hard to coordinate everything when you don’t have a home base. We are truly housing first. We believe everyone has a human right to affordable housing.”
With a focus on training about different types of trauma, the staff has a goal to address these needs frequently with their residents, as they believe trauma has one of the biggest impacts on whether or not a resident’s housing and health remain stable.
“We are not going to be good HIV workers unless we understand trauma,” said Boyer. “We have worked hard to bring in trainers who will teach us more about trauma, where it comes from, how it affects the neurobiology of the brain, how folks see the world and how they work with us, because we are in their world. If they can’t trust us, or if they don’t perceive our intentions, how are we going to be effective with them? We have to understand the trauma.”
According to the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors (NASTAD), 70% of people living with HIV have experienced significant or chronic trauma in their life, which can often lead to multiple, chronic diagnoses or issues, and prevent access to care.
“It can be an underlying cause for chemical addiction and use, and until they [residents] deal with that, they may use chemicals to mask the pain,” said Peterson. “Trauma can be a barrier to getting care for HIV because that self-value and self-worth is not as strong, causing someone to not have a strong desire to stay healthy.”
By providing stable housing and a harm-reduction approach, Clare Housing has been able to increase the positive health outcomes for the HIV and AIDS residents who live in the building.
“We have shown this model really works. One hundred percent of our folks are connected to a health care provider because they must have an HIV diagnosis from a physician to be part of our program,” said Peterson. “Last year, 95% of our clients saw a physician at least once per year for their HIV status, and 98% of our people achieved undetectable viral loads.”
Advancements in medication have led to the ability for those diagnosed with HIV and AIDS to not transmit the virus sexually once their viral load is suppressed. Clare Housing assists residents with access to medical care, health education and medications. Once a resident has this access, the health issues addressed are usually different than HIV and AIDS.
“We have made the housing and health connection in a very public way, demonstrating how we can get folks housed, connected to health care, and get them to an undetectable level,” said Peterson. “The health issues we are dealing with now are diabetes, older age, cancer and high blood pressure. HIV becomes less of an issue because of the advancement of medications. It’s the other chronic conditions that nursing staff deals with.”
Clare Housing staff also advocate for legislation that would enable comprehensive sexual education in schools, and more access to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) medications like Truvada. Peterson, who credits the front-line staff for their recent recognition by the Minnesota Department of Human Services, believes that housing first has led to the positive outcomes they see in their program, and hopes to continue serving those in need.
“The pathway to end the epidemic is getting folks connected to care, and on medications so they can get to an undetectable level,” said Peterson. “Science has shown that if you are undetectable, you cannot sexually transmit the virus to someone who is HIV negative. Getting high risk HIV negative individuals on PrEP is another tool to keep them negative.”
After working with the Clare Housing organization since 1998, Chuck Peterson recently became the new executive director at Heading Home Minnesota Funders Collaborative, but has left an ongoing framework for the residents and staff at Clare Housing.
More information about Clare Housing, their mission, values, history, and contact information can be found at: https://www.clarehousing.org/about/.
Below: Left to right: Former Clare Housing Executive Director Chuck Peterson, Minnesota Department of Human Services Commissioner Jodi Harpstead and John Estrem, president of the Clare Housing board of directors, with the DHS’ 2019 Circle of Excellence Award. (Photo by Cynthia Sowden)