Home: Life at Hope House has evolved for better over 20 years
BY AD CRABLE, Staff Writer
Twenty years ago, when Catholic Charities proposed opening a group home in a Manheim Township neighborhood for men and women likely to die of AIDS, some resisted, calling it a "death house," a "rent-a-hospital" filled with people who would not care about the neighborhood.
Today, two decades and some 300 residents later, some neighbors in the Glen Moore neighborhood don't even know Hope House exists.
It does, though, and is one of only two facilities in the state giving care, counseling and hope specifically to those with HIV/AIDS.
But it's no longer a place where people go for a compassionate death.
With medical advances in the fight against the virus, it's now not unlike controlling diabetes. Consequently, the home's mission has changed.
Residents -- who come from throughout Pennsylvania -- are given the proper medicine to stabilize their health, then Hope House's staff of trained caregivers strive to get them back on their feet, on a job and living by themselves.
"In the beginning, the expectation was that you are coming here to die. This is your last stop on your journey in life. Now, we just like to be a rest stop," says Rachel Weiss, Hope House's program director.
From the outside, the one-story rancher at 1509 Crescent Ave. looks like all the other nearby older, tidy homes. Plants are lined on a bench in the backyard, ready for this year's garden.
Inside live five men and two women -- one short of state-mandated capacity -- fighting against hardships. Besides HIV or AIDS, they have likely been homeless, may be suffering from drug or alcohol addictions, depression and other woes.
A staff of seven part-time and two full-time caregivers includes nurses and those with experience in social work, case management and other skills residents will need if they are to leave the home.
It's not easy. Of the seven current residents, four have had stops at Hope House more than once.
"It's not because they weren't successful the first time," says Weiss. "Something in their environment changed to where they backslid again."
Though there are no guarantees, Hope House's record for success is higher than those of rehabilitation centers, says Weiss.
Where would the residents be if not at Hope House?
"Dead," responds Weiss immediately. "And if they were not dead, they would be living on the streets or living in the revolving door of the ER and on the streets."
If residents have a job, they pay to stay at Hope House and for their medication on a sliding scale. If they can't pay, there is another expectation: volunteering.
"Their money is coming from the state, it's coming from taxpayers, so what are you doing for taxpayers, what are you doing for your community? And we ask them that question repeatedly," says Weiss.
Kathy Valeri, 67, a licensed practical nurse, has been a caregiver at Hope House for more than 17 years.
She's seen the change from hospice-type care to something much more hopeful.
"It's good to see the ones that really want to go out and you're able to encourage them to be on their own," she says.
The average stay at Hope House is about one year.
Two of three neighbors contacted had favorable things to say about the group home.
"It's better than most neighbors, to be honest with you," says Doug Underwood, who takes his three young children trick-or-treating at Hope House. "They are fine neighbors. I wouldn't even know that they were there."
But another neighbor for 16 years, Steve Wentzel, says flatly, "It's a nuisance. I don't like it."
He says there are ambulances and fire engines at the house too much for his liking. He says residents used to sit on the porch at Hope House and watch his children, which prompted him to put up a fence and extra shrubbery.
"Residents walk around and tend to rubberneck and really snoop in and around people's properties," he says.
Bob Kelser, who lives directly across the street from Hope House, says, "They've been nice neighbors, overall."
He says there have been "a couple little things," like a former resident badgering him for cigarettes. But he said his wife delivers Christmas cookies to residents and that knowledge of the group home did not discourage the family from buying their home 10 years ago.
Now that AIDS is no longer the death sentence that it once was, Hope House doesn't have a waiting list for residents.
In fact, says Weiss, "we're working to re-establish our presence in the community.
"The disease here is still very prevalent, and there still is a need for Hope House, it's just that (the medical community doesn't) know we're here anymore because it's a managed disease."
A 20th-anniversary celebration and fundraising event for the public will be held this fall in Lancaster.
Hope House's biggest needs, says Weiss, are food; cleaning supplies; paper products such as towels, cups and plates; toiletries; and entertainment items such as games and DVDs.
To contact Hope House, call 293-9089.
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