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A Place to Call Home

St. Clare's Residence provides affordable housing for those living with AIDS and other disabilities

Joyce DeJessie sits in the sunwashed living room of her new, ground-floor apartment, smiling broadly as she talks about the garden she plans to start in the spring and expected visits from her grandchildren during the summer break. Pictures of her nephew -- a lineman on the football team at Stanford University -- sit in a glass frame perched on a nearby dresser.

“I’m doing pretty well. It was stressful looking for an apartment, and the apartments I did find were not in good condition,” said DeJessie.

“I’m so honored to be in a brand-new house,” she added. “I just feel like I’m on Cloud 9.”

DeJessie is one of the tenants of St. Clare’s Residence, a 16-unit facility in the West Ward for those living with disabilities, including families and individuals suffering from AIDS.

The residence, which is located in two adjacent buildings on Roseville Avenue, was completed and began receiving residents last year, and a ribbon-cutting ceremony -- attended by officials including Councilman Ron Rice and Mayor Cory Booker -- was held Thursday.

Tenants at the units, which were built largely with a mix of county, local, state and federal government funds totalling about $3.2 million, pay rent equal to a third of their income, a level many experts believe is the threshold for affordable housing. In-house staff provide counseling and other services.

Kevin Zealand, executive director of St. Clare’s Homes Property, the nonprofit that operates the facility, noted that while many Newarkers have a tough time finding decent, affordable housing, those living with AIDS and other disabilities face even more hurdles.

“For people with AIDS, housing is health care,” said Zealand. “You may be in treatment, but it’s difficult to maintain a regime of medication if you don’t know where you’re going to be sleeping at night.”

Caring and housing  those with HIV/AIDS is something of a family affair for Kevin Zealand, whose parents, Faye and Terry, founded the AIDS Resource Foundation for Children in 1985, a time when effective treatment had yet to be developed and HIV sufferers were often regarded as pariahs. Newark was among the US cities hit especially hard by AIDS. 

The Zealands opened the first St. Clare’s facility in Elizabeth two years later to shelter HIV-positive babies from Newark and the surrounding area. They went on to start a number of other affiliated organizations, including the Academy Street Firehouse, which serves children orphaned by the disease. 

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