Bruce House, a community-based housing organization for people living with HIV, is closing one of its transitional housing programs due to a lack of funding and the changing needs of its clients.

The organization, which has been operating since the late 1980s, said the seven-bedroom house in Westboro will close Sept. 1. 

"The immediate reality is that Bruce House cannot afford to continue operating the current Transition House," said a statement dated Aug. 10.

The facility cost $300,000 per year to operate and accounted for almost a third of the organization's budget, according to the statement. Expenses included 24/7 staffing, rent and utilities.

Bruce House has raised $11,500 so far this summer.

It's planning on "re-inventing" the program eventually, but will be laying off Transition House staff. The organization said it has found new accommodations for people who were living at the facility.

'Behind the eight-ball'

J.J. (Jay) Koornstra, a former executive director of Bruce House, said raising money has always been an issue for the organization.

"Bruce House has always been behind the eight-ball in terms of having adequate funding," he said. "We're unique in the sense that, unfortunately, our funding bodies are siloed by ministries."

While Bruce House would go to the health or housing ministry for funding, each would refer the organization to the other because of the services it offered — leaving it to piece together whatever funding it qualified for, he said.

Transition House required $250,000 in fundraising every year, something the organization said was becoming increasingly difficult.

The organization said it currently has 10 funding applications on the go and recent donations will help "bridge the current financial shortfalls."

Changing service

The program was the first service offered by Bruce House in 1988 — a time when an HIV diagnosis amounted to a death sentence and was heavily stigmatized.

"At that time when they opened the doors there were several people that did not have a home to go to in the last stages of their disease or they were met with a lot of discrimination," Koornstra said.

The changing nature of HIV treatment and increased understanding about the disease led to changes in the kind of services offered through Transition House.

"HIV is more and more infecting people who are either street-involved or are not able to access the health-care system," Koornstra said.  

The program housed people for up to two years, helping them manage their medical care, access social services, and live independently.

Koornstra said those services and supports for people aging with HIV are still needed and that a dedicated facility will be important as the population of older people with HIV grows.

"With HIV and long-term living with HIV, there are other medical complications that have arisen that never arose before. It's been harder and harder to find services for people who are older, " he said.

"I think the need is going to be very great in the immediate future, so it's very sad that we're no longer going to be offering that program."