Supported housing for people with HIV dwindles

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Organisations working with people living with HIV/AIDS fear that the amount of supported accommodation in NSW could soon fall behind future demand.

As Sydney’s rapacious demand for inner city properties propels prices to seemingly ever higher records, the once iconic Bobby Goldsmith Foundation (BGF) House in Surry Hills — which provided supported housing for ten people up until November this year — has finally seen its last resident relocate to a private flat.

The tatty ten-unit, three-floor Albion St house, whose lift was almost permanently broken and whose pastel yellow painted walls peeled like a British backpacker, might have looked scruffy but its valuable role in offering a safe, cosy and sociable space with a communal lounge, kitchen and garden for its residents in inner Sydney — all of whom had complex health problems — is hard to understate.

Now it’s for up for sale.

Spruiked by real estate agent Richardson&Wrench as a “freestanding landmark” steeped in history on a 538sq m block, the property will rake in multiple millions for its co-owners Housing NSW and BGF when it finally goes under the hammer on Thursday 18th December. (You can take a tour by clicking here.)

But it’s not the only safe haven likely to go under the hammer.

Government News has been told that Stanford House in Stanmore, which provides short-term emergency accommodation and respite care for up to four people with HIV, could also be on the chopping block.

When HIV first hit Australia, the odds of long term survival for those struck by it were initially pretty low. These days the  disease is thankfully more controllable, but that logically means an increase in the number of people living with virus.

Lance Feeney from HIV community organisation Positive Life said that although there were still housing options available in the city for people living with HIV/AIDS in places like The Villa and Bridge House, he suspected that these were already full  and he feared that demand would outstrip the supply of supported accommodation available.

“One of the concerns around this is that we’re not seeing any reduction in the number of people with complex health needs relating to HIV,” Mr Feeney said.

“There are more people each year with HIV and while the bulk of them their health has improved due to retrovirals, there are people with multi-morbidity: liver, kidney and cardiovascular disease, neurological impairment and high rates of depression and anxiety.

“As people get older these conditions probably aren’t going to resolve any time soon and some people will need assistance to live, either when they come out of hospital or because they’re condition deteriorates.”

Mr Feeney said with the closure of BGF House he worried “we are losing that ability to provide supported accommodation in a residential type of facility” that might be needed in the future.

He said the move to employ more mainstream services and locate people in private accommodation was not unwelcome but was not always the best approach at the times when people had more intensive needs.

“Supported accommodation needs to stabilise people and transition them, if possible, into independent living. Sometimes that’s difficult because people’s health and psychological needs take a long time and sometimes they don’t improve and that’s been an issue in terms of moving people through.

“The overall health of people with HIV has changed dramatically over the last 15 years with retrovirals – it’s no longer the killer it was – that’s not to stay there might not be people in the future who have moderate to high level needs who need support.”

Deputy Director of NSW Health Centre for Population Health Daniel Madeddu said BGF House opened in 1997 to provide 24-hour supported accommodation for people at the end of their lives but needs had changed since effective retrovirals became available in 1996.

“With the changes in the profile of the HIV epidemic since that time, together with the significant and ongoing cost of maintaining an ageing heritage building (BGF House), BGF made a decision to contemporise its model of supported housing to provide support for greater numbers of clients in the community setting,” Mr Madeddu said.

He said that HIV could now be managed more effectively using a different model of care.

“Even for those people with advanced HIV disease and multiple morbidities, the need for 24- hour care is required less as the treatment and management of HIV has evolved to become a long-term chronic illness that can be very effectively managed in the community setting with in-home support services as required.”

Asked if he thought demand for supported accommodation in NSW might outstrip supply in the future, Mr Madeddu said: “Local Health Districts have an obligation to provide appropriate services to meet the health needs of their local populations”.

“People with HIV will continue to have access to appropriate health, clinical and support services whether these are delivered through HIV specific or mainstream providers,” he added.

Mr Madeddu said the NSW Ministry of Health funded a number of services for PLWHIV/AIDS including the state-wide AIDS Dementia and HIV Psychiatry Service (Adahps) for case management and support; Positive Life NSW and ACON to represent the HIV community and the HIV Support Program, which supported doctors and their patients newly diagnosed with HIV.

“The Ministry recognises that we are in a new era of HIV. With the life expectancy of people with HIV being very close to that of the general population, a person with HIV can expect to live well in the community for perhaps 30 or 40 years after their diagnosis,” he said.

“Continual quality improvement processes ensure the current and future service needs of people living with HIV are being met through appropriate, integrated specialist and mainstream care.”

The Kirby Institute’s 2014 Annual Surveillance Report of HIV, viral hepatitis, STIs says the annual number of new HIV diagnoses in Australia has gradually increased since 1999, but the rate of HIV diagnosis remaining the same or slightly declined in NSW, from around 6.1 people per 100,000 of the population between 2004 and 2008 to 5.5 in 20Support For International AIDS Memorial Day09 to 2013.

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