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December 1, 2017

New housing for people living with HIV and AIDS

“Something inside me said this is my last chance, and I’ve been on my medication ever since.” John Cook sits on a couch with his legs elevated. Because of the medication he receives, his feet are swollen. He’s tended to by staff from Sanctum Care Group. “I can’t go back to the way I used to be.”

John is a tall man of over 6 feet with dark grey-blue eyes. His arms are covered in beautifully detailed art. He used to be a tattoo artist and a journeyman painter. He has battled drug addiction for many years.

One year ago, while facing severe health issues, John’s resolve strengthened. He understood that recovery would be a long, challenging road. And he knew he needed help. While at the hospital, John learned of Sanctum Care Group, Saskatchewan’s first hospice with respite and supportive care for people living with HIV or AIDS.

After a year-long recovery at Sanctum, John steadily improved. Soon he was well enough to accept an opportunity to use his painting skills and spent 3 months helping renovate the non-profit’s newest project — The Beehive.

The decision proved to be life changing.

“I literally went from not doing anything for 10 years to putting in a decent day’s work every day, 7 days a week,” John says with a modest smile. By the end of the project, he had painted every unit and hallway in the building, as well as the office.

Developed by Stewart Properties, The Beehive consists of 11 one-bedroom units of transitional housing for people living with HIV or AIDS who are at risk of homelessness. Residents receive holistic, transitional support from outreach staff at AIDS Saskatoon, the Saskatoon Health Region and Sanctum Care Group.

They get specialized help in managing the symptoms of their disease as well as other psycho-social and practical support. Indigenous programming, cultural ceremonies, healing opportunities and peer-to-peer support are also available.

John has lived at The Beehive for 6 months. He is a mentor and leads a weekly peer group. He hopes to stay for at least another 6 months while he gets back on his feet. “I tell people they don’t have to spend so many years being homeless. There is an alternative — places like The Beehive.”

“There are services out there that can help,” he says. “But many people don’t take that step. Maybe I can help someone not go through the years of homelessness that I did.”

The Government of Canada contributed to this project through the Seed Funding Program.