Life had never really been easy for Janet*. As a child and an adult, she never got much emotional or financial support from her alcoholic mother. The two eventually became estranged. She went on to have a relationship for a number of years with an abusive man.
But in 2009, Janet’s world was blown apart. One morning while she was alone in the apartment she shared with her boyfriend, a man knocked on the door, shouting that he needed help. When she opened the door, he pushed her to the floor and struck her in the head with the butt of his gun. When she came to, the man was gone but she’d been raped.
Janet spent months dealing with the mental trauma of the rape. But even then, she didn’t fully realize the extent of the trauma.
In 2010, she became pregnant with twins. When she went to see the OB/GYN for her first checkup, blood tests revealed that she was HIV positive. Her boyfriend tested negative so they knew she’d acquired the virus from the rapist.
In a couple of months, she miscarried the twins. “I think the stress of finding out about the HIV and still dealing with the trauma of the rape led to the loss of my twins.,” Janet said.
In 2014, she became pregnant again. She worried the whole nine months but with the help of medicines the doctor had prescribed, Elliott was not born with the virus.
Janet had had the same job for years—she never let anything keep her from working. But when, at the age of three, her son was diagnosed with autism, she finally had to reach out for help.
That help came from House of Ruth, a nonprofit organization that provides housing and support services for people with HIV/AIDS and their families who are homeless, at risk of losing their homes, or need financial help.
“I’ve always been a fighter but at that point I needed support while I fixed myself. House of Ruth has been my support system. They helped me get housing together for my son and me. They have always been there if I needed something for my son.”
About House of Ruth
House of Ruth — a reference to the biblical Book of Ruth which symbolizes love and mercy for all people – is a nonprofit social services agency that was founded in 1992 by eight long-time friends who were Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. The women united around what they felt was an unmet social service need -– women who were affected by HIV/AIDS and their children. The service population has since expanded to include men living with HIV/AIDS.
In the first few years of its existence, the agency bounced around from one rental facility to another. In the fall of 1999, they were gifted with the building that was the old St. Matthew United Church of Christ property in the Shelby Park neighborhood. Janet Sutton, House of Ruth’s Executive Director, said, “The church’s congregation was aging and wanted to give the building to an organization that would continue to serve the neighborhood—Smoketown, Shelby Park and the urban poor. And we were chosen.”
The church building now houses the administrative offices of 13 full-time and six part-time staff. The group is supplemented by a volunteer Board of Directors and about 125 other volunteers who work every day to fulfill the mission.
Sutton says that, while the organization provides many services, “our primary goal is to help low-income people with HIV access and maintain long-term housing. We serve the local population of those with HIV but we also provide services to everyone in the family. We know that HIV impacts everyone in the household.”
In February 2001, House of Ruth assumed ownership of Glade House, a shelter in Old Louisville, and four condominiums for HIV-positive individuals. Today, House of Ruth owns 17 scattered-site housing units for HIV/AIDS individuals and families and provides long-term housing for an additional 50 households in rental units owned by private landlords.
House of Ruth offers other assistance to HIV families including TARC tickets, rental security deposits and first month’s rent, moving expenses, and uniforms and supplies needed for work and school. The agency also offers individualized case management, individual and group mental health counseling, crisis intervention, and life skills workshops.
Sutton says that House of Ruth and other nonprofits in the region will be affected by proposed budget cuts from Metro Government and Metro United Way. “We already have 100 people on a waiting list for housing. We are concerned that won’t be able to maintain the service levels we currently offer.”
HIV/AIDs has not gone away
Because you don’t see as much news coverage about HIV/AIDs as you did in the late ‘80s, you could easily believe that the epidemic is under control. Sutton says that’s not true. “HIV is still out there and still a challenge, especially for low-income individuals who may struggle to access HIV medication and take it as prescribed.”
Currently the number of people in Jefferson County who know they have HIV is about 2,800. House of Ruth works with about 600 people who are HIV-positive or someone in their household is. Sutton says that despite a lot of information out there about the virus, people with HIV still face some discrimination, especially from some private landlords.
“We had an experience two years ago with a property we owned. Word got out in the neighborhood that it was one of our houses and our client was harassed and mistreated. We finally sold the property,” Sutton says.
Despite those issues and others, House of Ruth continues its mission full-force, offering housing services, a helping hand, and bit of dignity to a population that may not have anyplace else to turn.
Want to help?
If you would like to reach out to offer household items or to volunteer at House of Ruth, you can click here to get more details.
*Name changed for privacy