Nation's First AIDS Housing Turns 20

Jun 27, 2012

Bailey-Boushay House turns 20 this year. The residential care facility in Seattle’s Madison Valley was the first of its kind in the country. It focused on the health care needs of people with AIDS. It was born out of a crisis. Over the years the patients’ medical needs have changed. The facility has evolved, too. Ruby de Luna traces the history of Bailey-Boushay.

Twenty years ago, Glenda received news that would change her life. She was diagnosed with HIV.

Glenda: “I thought I was going to die within a year. So I stopped doing everything, I just laid in my bed everyday ready to die within a year.”

Glenda’s life spiraled downward. She became homeless. She was addicted to drugs, had unprotected sex. She was suicidal. Three years ago, she started coming to Bailey-Boushay. This is where she gets her medicine. Glenda says the medical care keeps her alive. But it’s the emotional support from the staff, and from other clients who’ve become her friends, that keeps her going.

Glenda: “It does keep me off the drugs, it does help my medical condition, it sort of addresses my whole life.”

This is what founders of Bailey-Boushay envisioned… a place where people struggling with AIDS or HIV could feel welcome and cared for.

Bailey-Boushay House was created at the height of the aids epidemic. By 1991, nearly 2,000 people in King County had been diagnosed with AIDS. At the time, they were given 12-24 months to live. There were limited options for those who needed end of life care. Most of them ended up in hospitals. But that was expensive.

Lieberman: “No other organization in town wanted to step in and do this project. Everyone said this is what the need is, this is how we should meet it. And we didn’t have anyone to do it.”

That’s Betsy Lieberman. She founded Bailey-Boushay. A grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation helped get the project going. Lieberman found a location for the facility, an empty lot in Madison Valley. that was the easy part. Lieberman remembers many neighborhood residents and businesses resisted the project.

Lieberman: “a whole number of community activists picketed then-mayor norm rice’s office. They picketed and said 'ban the AIDS prison from the central area.' People were just scared.”

Lieberman says part of the fear was driven by misinformation. Some people didn’t know how AIDS was transmitted.

The tension brought out passion from both sides. It tested Seattle’s political will. Lieberman says the turning point came when big names stepped up and donated to the project. Donors like Boeing, Safeco, and other influential benefactors. The local chapter of ACT-UP, a national AIDS activist group also became involved. All in all, more than 5,000 people contributed to Bailey-Boushay House.

Lieberman: “So it was a profound shift in this community when you think about Boeing Company and Act-Up in the same sentence, and the commitment of this huge range of community folks to make this happen and stand with us.”

And when Bailey–Boushay House opened, more than 500 people came to its dedication.

There’s no cure for AIDS. But new drugs have helped reduce death rates and medical complications. And over the years services at Bailey-Boushay have evolved. The Seattle facility continues to provide end of life care, not just for those dying of AIDS, but for those in the last stages of ALS, cancer and other terminal illnesses.

Copyright 2012 Northwest Public Radio