Damien Center pays off building mortgage

The Damien Center celebrated the end of a $3 million capital campaign in April by burning the mortgage on its building at 26 N. Arsenal St.

The former Lutheran school has been the home base for Damien’s HIV- and AIDS-related services since 2006. Unfortunately, that work won’t be obsolete any time soon.

“What’s really unfortunate is the message youth get—I don’t think the education has kept up with the disease,” Executive Director Tom Bartenbach said.

When the Damien Center was founded in 1987, HIV-positive clients were expected to live 30 months to 60 months, Bartenbach noted, but with current treatment, they can live 30 years. That’s left many young people with the impression that there’s a cure, he said.

The Damien Center offers free testing to the public and serves 1,200 HIV-positive clients, 93 percent of whom live in poverty. Another 900 HIV-positive people have access to the center’s food bank and other services, including help finding housing and access to emergency money and career counseling. Bartenbach said he’d like to add a full medical clinic.

Otherwise, much of the Damien Center’s current efforts are focused on community outreach to increase testing in high-risk populations. The Damien Center is working with groups like Casa Mateo and Women in Motion on that front.

Many people in the current at-risk population, which includes women of color, have no idea they could be carrying the HIV virus, Bartenbach said. One sign of the lack of awareness is that many of the Damien Center’s female clients already suffer from symptoms of AIDS by the time they test positive, he said.

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