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Need rises for emergency housing for people with HIV in St. Louis

The Cooper House, which is operated by Doorways, has 36 private rooms that serve as emergency housing for people with HIV.

St. Louis agencies that serve people living with HIV have seen a sharp rise in requests for emergency housing.

More than 5,900 people were living with HIV in the city of St. Louis and six nearby Missouri counties at the end of 2015, according to the St. Louis Regional HIV Health Services Planning Council.

Those that need emergency housing turn to organizations like Doorways, a St. Louis-based housing agency for people living with HIV. In 2015, Doorways provided emergency housing for 276 people, up from 180 people the year before. In the first five months of 2016, coordinators placed an average of 23 people a month, which is on pace to match last year’s increase.

Though the agencies have been able to move funds around to meet the need, the reason for the rise is unclear, said Brenda Malone, a program director for Doorways.

“It’s really hard to pinpoint,” she said. “We’ve had a lot of folks that are kicked out of their homes by their parents — the younger populations, 18 to 24. That’s a large population that we’re serving right now.”

Malone said a handful of new initiatives in the region have worked to find people who had fallen out of care, and connect them with programs.

Every week, more than a dozen people request a place to stay, she said. Often, the program will only be able to get in contact with three or four clients to successfully place them in a dedicated rooming house or hotel.  

“Living with HIV, they’re dealing with a totally different set of circumstances,” Malone said. “In homeless shelters, typically — clients are residing in a cot, sharing a room with numerous people, side by side, not able to take their [medications] on time or in full.”  

Other times, Malone said, the program she works for can cater to people who are transgender and do   not feel safe in a traditional shelter.

But why the need is rising now has flummoxed both Malone and public officials.

“It began to happen last fall, which was unusual,” said Maggie Hourd-Bryant, a grants administrator for the City of St. Louis Department of Health. “Generally in the fall, winter months, people live with family. Because of the cold weather, people are more likely to allow folks to live with them.”

Getting people into care so they can manage their disease means that they can live a healthy, normal lifespan and avoid passing HIV along to their partners, Hourd-Bryant said.

Follow Durrie on Twitter: @durrieB