Living with HIV or AIDS can be hard. Even with advances in treatment, symptoms can be hard to manage, and medication is expensive. If you live in San Francisco, it’s even harder -- because the cost of living is so high. The median price for a one-bedroom apartment in the city is almost $2,800 -- already out of reach for many low-income people, and even harder for people whose medical costs get higher as their diseases advance. The cost of medication an HIVs patient has to take can reach nearly $30,000 per year. But for sixteen years, San Francisco’s had a place to help low-income AIDs patients. Leland House in Visitacion Valley. KALW student reporter Megan Quintana has always known about Leland House because her mom is a nursing assistant there.
Casual and close
My mom, Maria Quintana, has worked at Leland house for 12 years, sometimes coming home with new stories about her 'second family'. Because the people living there were really sick, I always imagined it to be a very restricted and highly supervised place for them. I wanted to know more, so my mom took me on a tour.
The first thing I notice is that everyone is casual and seems close.
"It’s like a home," my mom says, "because most of the people have been there for a long time. You always see them everyday so it’s kind of like a family."
Leland House is run by Catholic Charities, a social service of the catholic church that works to end poverty in the Bay Area. Leland House recruits its clients directly from hospitals and straight off the streets. The most basic requirements to move into Leland: people need to be to have disabling HIV or AIDS.
Allen Terpen has lived with HIV for 33 years, and is one of the residents here at Leland House. "When I did become sick," he says, "I was living in a house that I couldn’t get up the stairs. I have a degenerated disc disorder and the discs are collapsing in my back. So the old house where I used to live was in Noe Valley, and I couldn’t get up the stairs any longer. I was able to obtain housing here."
Because of Leland House, Allen can still afford to live in the city he loves.
"Because we only pay one third of our income for rent so we can afford to have a better life," says Terpen.
I was surprised to find that many of the residents still have a lot of control over their lives. Even though Terpen is sick, he can still do a lot of things he enjoys.
Terpen says about Leland House, "It’s an independent housing facility and so actually there’s no structure; you can do what you want during the day. But I need to get up in the morning to take my pills, for my HIV, and then I’ll eat breakfast and I’ll watch some T.V. And I’m in college online. So I take online courses. So I do some homework. I can do that throughout the day. And I need to spend four to six hours on the computer.”
"Most of them are very independent," my mom tells me. "So they all go in and out and can do whatever they want. What you have to do is monitor them. If they’re sick you have to take their vital signs; make sure they’re OK."
Like Terpen, everyone here has a routine. One of the only big rules is that dinner at Leland House is always at five pm, sharp.
I go to the cafeteria around five and sit down with some residents. It looks like my high school’s cafeteria, with multiple round tables scattered around the room, and most of the tables filled. There’s an opening in the wall with a nurse inside serving dinner to patients who are patiently lined up. I was surprised when some of them decided on no dinner.
Even with lots of freedom, and the illnesses the residents have, being at the Leland House can be difficult.
"Well," my mom says, "sometimes they have psychological problems, and some people something are on drugs. All kinds of drugs. So they deal like crack, speed, and heroin. It’s not really hard for me now because I’m used to it. It’s easy for me now. And especially they’re like my family because every single day I work with them. I spend more hours with them than I spend at my house with my family."
Visiting Leland House gave me a whole new perspective on what life is like there. Not only did I see a lot of freedom given to the residents, but I saw a closeness that everyone shared. Now I know what my mom means when she calls that people at Leland House her “second family”.
Megan Quintana is a rising senior at Burton High School in San Francisco, where KALW is based. She was a summer reporting intern with us this year.