December 1992 by Marc Haupert (former Executive Director of Chicago House)

The waning days of yet another year in the “age of AIDS” prompt both reflection and planning for the future. What a year it’s been – many vivid memories jump to mind.

I think two of the most powerful images of 1992 have to be: the entire AIDS memorial quilt as displayed at the Washington Monument grounds in October, and the candlelight march from the ellipse, around the White House, to the Lincoln Memorial which followed the display. Memories of newsreel footage of Martin Luther King’s speech on those same steps came to mind amid the sea of 100,000 candles circling the reflecting pool. It was a dignified, yet angry memorial to all those who have given their lives in this struggle. Quilt founder Cleve Jones’ raised fist and “we will bring you down” warning to President Bush focused this anger at a White House which was known for its inactivity rather than initiative in the face of AIDS. His speech was prophetic.

Closer to home, Chicago continues to mature as a “second wave” city in the HIV epidemic. By being later to feel the full numeric brunt of the virus’ deadly impact, we have had a bit more time to prepare a response, although the ingrained inertia in our local health “system” has largely mitigated that potential benefit.

The most positive development has to be flowering of community based organizations which have sprung up to respond at the grassroots level to the human tragedy of HIV related disability. Indeed the private sector has taken the lead in educating our own communities, raising our own funds, and caring for our brothers and sisters in need.

Our community based organizations are becoming stronger due to sheer determination, but the challenges of overlapping services, as well as a lack of consistency and quality assurance in service delivery, loom at large. The proliferation of agencies, each providing a limited range of services, brings the benefit of community control, but the potential for inefficiency.

It was very interesting to hear from the Corporation for Supportive Housing in Boston that they had chosen Chicago as their fourth of nine cities to focus their investment of private dollars for supportive housing (nearly $2 million from Ford and other foundations to be directed to Chicago), primarily based on the strength of the indigenous community-based providers, rather than any coordinated superstructure generated by our public institutions.

This dichotomy exists in AIDS services as well, which means that every participant and supporter of community-baed AIDS services must also be an activist, to advocate for the interests of his or her friends, clients, relatives, and compatriots, and demand an adequate response from every governmental level.

It is truly shameful that not a single dollar comes from the State or the County to support AIDS housing, for example. These governments seem content to squander their admittedly limited resources on the most costly means of “serving” the ill, while ignoring the more cost-efficient and humane services provided by private nonprofits. City government has responded, though cautiously, and with far too few resources, relying too heavily on redirecting of federal dollars, which are often the most unpredictable and cumbersome for a smaller nonprofit to manage.

As we enter 1993, Chicago House remains a testament to the power of private initiative. As represented by the quilt, we are a patchwork of all types of individuals who have come together to care for our own. My hope is that we do not lose our anger nor our compassion.

While you write your year-end contributions checks, or plan to simply slip a dollar into a canister at your local retailer, think also about making a call to your alderman, supervisor, or other representative to make your voice heard on the need for governmental leadership in the struggle, both against AIDS and for the people seen and heard as vivdly as those 100,000 candles.

I also want to take this year-end moment to again highlight to you the marvelous staff with whom I have the pleasure to work each day. They deal with adversity and stress with aplomb, and have built this local and national treasure known as Chicago House.