A tutor and student work in The Learning Center at Jerusalem House.
A tutor and student work in The Learning Center at Jerusalem House.

By Clare S. Richie

An HIV/AIDS diagnosis today is no longer considered a death sentence, but for those living with the chronic disease, access to medication and stable housing remains critical. More than 50,000 Georgians are living with HIV/AIDS. Half of them will likely seek housing support. In Atlanta, 3,000 housing units are needed.

For 25 years, Jerusalem House has worked and grown to fill this gap. Put simply by Executive Director Charlie Frew, “housing is the cornerstone of survival”. This secular nonprofit is Atlanta’s largest provider of permanent supportive housing for homeless and low-income men, women and children affected by HIV/AIDS.

Named for “a dwelling of peace,” Jerusalem House started in 1989 with five housing units for those with AIDS to have a safe haven to die with dignity. Back then an AIDS diagnosis often triggered an eviction with nowhere to go. When that happened to a friend of co-founder Evelyn Ullman, she had to act. So, Evelyn teamed up with Dr. Joe Wilber and Rev. Chet Grey. The three purchased a five-unit home with generous support from all segments of the Atlanta community including Southern Bell, The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta and The Woodruff Foundation.

Today Jerusalem House offers a place of stability and hope. With 140 fully furnished units, it serves approximately 240 people daily, including more than 100 children. The nonprofit operates two facilities in the Druid Hills neighborhood, one for single adults and one for single mothers and their children. It also leases blocks of apartments for adults and families.

Each resident completes a customized plan to guide them toward living on their own. With dozens of partners, like AID Atlanta and Open Hand, residents are connected to case management, meals, counseling, budget classes, health care and more.

More than one-third of those served are children. To address their needs, Jerusalem House provides homework help at its Learning Center and has partners provide on-site counseling. “By providing stability and a path forward, we are helping multiple generations,” Frew explained. Each child resident has been promoted to the next grade level, with those in elementary school posting grade point averages of “B” or better.

Looking toward the future, Frew talks about investing in more permanent facilities. Owning is preferred to renting, since government funded programs are not keeping pace with rising rents. Plus residential facilities can provide more supportive services.

As in 1989, Jerusalem House can’t take this next step alone. Homeless and low-income families living with HIV/AIDs can have a brighter future but many still need our support.

Learn more at jerusalemhouse.org.

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.