A Home Base For Getting Back On Track
Clearly, Ron Bennett says, he is a lucky man. He appreciates not only his good health after facing the threat of dying from AIDS years ago, but also the security and comfort of his one-bedroom apartment, a home that SAVE Inc. made possible.
When we first met Bennett in a Camp story published last November, his focus was on going back to school. Now his goal is to find employment that he can get to via public transportation.
Bennett met with me and with Julie Groce, supportive housing specialist/program manager for SAVE Inc., at SAVE’s new Silverleaf office building.
Bennett has lived in SAVE Inc. housing for 2 1/2 years. He is living with AIDS and dealing with alcohol and drug addictions. Twenty years ago, he said, he lost his partner, Jeffrey, to AIDS.
Bennett said that his struggle to stay sober was more difficult when he lived in roommate situations.
“You cannot make yourself better when you have too much bullshit around,” he said.
He was able to get sober through a 28-week program at reStart and subsequently through a 14-month program when he received the call from SAVE Inc. that they had an apartment available.
Homeless, he was living at City Union Mission when his name came to the top of SAVE’s waiting list.
Bennett said the call came in two days before his birthday.
“Hell of a birthday present,” he said, laughing.
Living at City Union Mission, Bennett said, was difficult because it’s a Christian organization that made it uncomfortable for him to let anyone know he was gay.
“I had to keep it to myself,” he said. “They do not want you discussing it with anyone else.”
“It’s almost like they’re closeting you,” said Groce.
“My God is not going to send me to hell for who I am,” said Bennett.
I think that was a big help to him, getting him to a SAVE property, since that has allowed him to be himself,” said Groce.
She said that sexual orientation doesn’t even come up in their interviews and that the people living in SAVE housing are diverse, including both families and individuals.
“When I moved in,” Bennett said, “all I had was my hide-a-bed, a dresser, my TV and a little nightstand. That’s it. Oh, and my clothes. But then two weeks after I moved in, we had a donor with a little U-Haul truck, and they got me a bedroom set with two dressers, two mirrors, a bed, another nightstand and a couple of lamps.”
Groce has been with SAVE since August 2014 and before that, she worked with the Good Samaritan Project, which assists people affected by HIV/AIDS in Kansas City.
Although SAVE Inc. does not provide medical care, she said, the organization has partnered with a pharmaceutical company to provide health seminars at several locations around the city, including SAVE Inc.
“We have been doing some ‘Lunch and Learn,’” she said. “They give us topics, and I choose a topic.” She talks with residents on campus to see what they want to learn more about.
“The first one we did was on mental health and substance abuse for people affected by HIV. I had 20 people here,” she said.
Bennett said he began using drugs after being diagnosed with HIV. “There were no support groups back in ’85,” he said.
Groce said, “I think our next one might be on adherence [to a schedule for taking prescribed medication>. I think that’s a big thing. My goal is that I’d like to see our clients get their medical help