Alexian Brothers open residential home for longtime AIDS ministry

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Sunday, August 28, 2011

People with HIV/AIDS who need supportive, permanent housing will soon have a new option on the South Side: Bettendorf Place, to be operated by Alexian Brothers AIDS Ministry.

The home, 8425 S. Saginaw Ave., which is in a renovated convent at St. Mary Magdalene Parish, is an outgrowth of the Alexian Brother’s Bonaventure House, which opened in 1989.

When the Alexian Brothers’ Bonaventure House opened its doors, AIDS patients were dying and had nowhere to go. The disease had come onto the scene swiftly and just as swiftly took the lives of many of its victims. Fear of AIDS robbed them of social support at the time they needed it most.

The situation for some was so dire that some brothers took dying AIDS patients into their own homes, said Michelle Wetzel, executive director of Alexian Brothers AIDS Ministry. But the situation has changed.

“The AIDS pandemic has evolved over time,” she said. “When Bonaventure House opened, people were dying rapidly, and we were a hospice-type facility where people came to die with dignity and comfort and care.”

With the advent of antiretroviral drugs and more sophisticated medical regimens, people who have HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, often live for years or decades following their diagnosis. However, many of them — including those who need the most help — have other problems, including substance abuse, she said. Bonaventure House is now a transitional home for people with HIV/AIDS, offering two years of support and substance abuse treatment.

Many of Bonaventure House’s residents, however, are not able to function on their own after two years, and there is not enough supportive housing available for them, so Alexian Brothers AIDS Ministry decided to open Bettendorf Place, named for the late Alexian Brother Felix Bettendorf, who spearheaded the creation of Alexian Brothers AIDS Ministry.

Support was not so hard to find now. The home was built in part with stimulus money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and won the support of former Mayor Richard M. Daley and 7th Ward Ald. Sandi Jackson, as well as the Archdiocese of Chicago, and St. Mary Magdalene Parish welcomed it with open arms.

It is located on the South Side to better serve the lowincome African-American and Hispanic people who make up the bulk of newly diagnosed HIV-positive people, Wetzel said. Most HIV/AIDS service providers are still located on the North Side, in neighborhoods that traditionally had high homosexual populations.

Bettendorf Places’ 23 studio apartments will be available to single low-income men and women who have HIV and are homeless or at risk of homelessness starting this fall. Wetzel said that it’s estimated that half of HIV-positive people will experience homelessness during their lifetimes, so the facility is needed, she said.

In addition to housing, there will be on-site case management services, occupational therapy and spiritual care. The Caritas Center, to be operated by the Daughters of Charity, will include a computer learning center where residents can learn new skills, do homework or write resumes. It also will offer GED classes and tutoring. Once the Caritas Center is up and running, the plan is to open it to the community.