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Devon Wallace was 33 years old when he was diagnosed with HIV in 2000. At that moment, his world stood still because he knew how demoralizing the disease can be.
“I was horrified and shocked,” he remembers. “I have lost so many friends to this disease, so I knew how devastating it is and how people will outcast those living with HIV.”
The stigma can make individuals feel such shame that many choose to isolate and avoid seeking medical care. This was Wallace: feeling ashamed and alone, he didn’t follow up on his medical treatment, lost his job and became homeless after having a career in corporate training. It took him 12 years after his diagnosis to finally seek the care he needed.
With the help of caseworkers from the St. Louis Effort for AIDS, Wallace was referred to nonprofit DOORWAYS, where he received emergency housing and medical services.
I came from a place of insecurity to a place that provides me with the love and support I need.
DOORWAYS, which was founded in 1988, is the only organization in the St. Louis area with a sole mission to provide affordable, secure housing and services to people living with HIV/AIDS. It owns and operates eight housing buildings, one of which is a 24-hour residential care facility, and provides services to 3,200 people annually, of whom 74% are Black, 32% are women and 33% are children.
“Housing is a critical component of health, so when these individuals have a safe and stable housing, then we can effectively provide the treatment they need, as well as prevent the spread of the disease,” says DOORWAYS President and CEO Opal Jones.
In the summer of 2022, DOORWAYS will expand and move its headquarters from the Central West End of St. Louis to a new campus it acquired in North St. Louis. The move will enable DOORWAYS to increase client intake and services at its new 3,400-square-foot offices and provide much-needed additional housing.
U.S. Bancorp Community Development Corporation (USBCDC), the tax credit and community development subsidiary of U.S. Bank, invested in a $8 million allocation of New Markets Tax Credits provided by the St. Louis Development Corporation (SLDC), the economic development arm of the City of St. Louis that’s coordinating neighborhood revitalization in much of North St. Louis.
Jones said it’s the largest and one of the most important efforts that the agency has done by far.
“This is a fundamental step that will help us move the needle for caring for people with HIV and ending the epidemic,” says Jones, who’s also looking forward to the construction of 35 affordable apartments and 15 emergency housing units adjacent to its headquarters, financed with a Low Income Housing Tax Credit investment from Advantage Capital.
“The DOORWAYS expansion will be such a significant addition to the North St. Louis area, especially because they will be closer to the folks that really need their services,” says Bill Seddon, director of the NMTC program at SLDC. USBCDC and SLDC have worked together for more than 20 years on 64 projects, totaling $357.5 million in investments in the form of tax credit investments and lending.
“As a downtown St. Louis business, USBCDC is thrilled to welcome DOORWAYS as a new neighbor that will expand the amazing resources and support that it has provided to people living with HIV/AIDS for decades,” said William Carson, vice president and NMTC business development officer at USBCDC. “In addition to investing in this project, several U.S. Bank employees who are members and allies of the LGBTQ+ community have been volunteers at DOORWAYS for years.”
Since HIV/AIDS emerged in the 1980s, the condition has become more manageable and has a high survivability rate. However, there’s still a lot of work left when it comes to prevention and the stigma associated with the condition.
Jones explains that the main goals of DOORWAYS are to end the forward transmission of the disease and to rebuke the stigma. So, the new building will have an actual DOORWAYS sign at the entrance of their new headquarters, which they haven’t done before.
“We want to basically put a stake in the ground and say that even if you have HIV, that’s okay; we can live stigma-free, and there’s no reason to hide,” said Jones.
Then, there’s the community health piece which is to get individuals who are HIV-positive to an undetectable status, a stage that Wallace, now 54 years old, has reached. And in this journey, he has found a new passion as client representative for DOORWAYS’ Board of Directors, a role he has been serving for the past five years.
“I came from a place of insecurity and doubt to a place that provides me with the love and support I need,” says Wallace. “Thanks to DOORWAYS, I’ve come full circle.”
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