By Ash Abraham

Ottawa’s first and only transition house for people living with HIV and AIDS was forced to shut its doors in September due to a lack of funding.

“The transition house was the one place in Ottawa where someone with HIV could go and not be afraid,” said Haoua Inoua, an AIDS support worker who was involved with Bruce House. She told the Leveller that she was deeply saddened by the closure.

Bruce House’s transitional residence came into being at the height of the AIDS epidemic in 1988. It offered residents 24-hour care in a home free from judgment. It was a place where clients could live and even die with dignity.

Bradford McIntyre was searching for such a place when he tested positive for HIV in 1984 and was told he had six months to live in 1985. “I moved to Ottawa so no one would see me get sick and die. I was in hiding,” McIntyre told the Leveller. He lived without any support before becoming too sick to work. “My body was like an open wound. And the stress, likely caused from not having a home, was preventing the healing.”

Eventually, McIntyre connected with a Bruce House staff member who helped put a roof over his head. “It gave me hope,” he said. “I felt like I had choices and a future. And here I am still alive 30 years later.”

Bruce House made a public appeal in August citing a 35 per cent decrease in funds raised. Soaring rent and utilities, paired with unexpected costs, created a “perfect storm” and left staff looking to make cuts. Along with closing the transitional house on Sept. 1, several staff members were let go. In a statement, Bruce House stressed that it, “will find appropriate housing for the clients currently living there. Those clients will continue to receive support.”

Inoua believes that the lag in fundraising is directly connected to a lack of HIV visibility in Ottawa. “People think that the transition house is not relevant anymore to the situation today but it’s not true,” she said.

“There are 35 million people infected with HIV today, so you’d think it would be easy to fundraise,” said McIntyre. “It’s because of a lack education and awareness. But HIV hasn’t gone away.”  

This article first appeared in the Leveller Vol. 10, No. 2 (Oct/Nov 2017).