The Havens, an affordable housing community, recently received a surprise donation from Lowe’s that will allow them to make necessary repairs and updates. (Photo Credit: Jim Yarbrough)

The Havens is a 25-unit property in Charlotte, originally built in 1995 to provide housing for those living with HIV/AIDS and other disabilities. 

Charlotte residents Pete Mangum and partner Libby Jernigan were among the first to recognize that a place like The Havens could provide life-altering potential for patients in need. 

Originally a board member of the HIV services organization Brothers Foundation, Mangum was no stranger to the challenges both clients and organizations faced during that time. While searching for potential funding, she came across a grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that could potentially allow Mangum and Jernigan to start the process for the creation of the space they envisioned.

After filling out extensive paperwork, submitting the grant request and finally being awarded the funding, the two purchased a piece of land that would eventually become Haven House and one of the first ever affordable housing units for people living with HIV/AIDS in Charlotte.

It was Mangum who approached Rev. Debbie Warren about The Havens, asking her to bring it to the board of RAIN as a potential collaboration. Warren spent almost 30 years at RAIN after founding the organization and serving as the Executive Director

Dedicated to providing education, medical and emergency assistance to those with HIV/AIDS, RAIN has been recognized by several local award committees for embodying their mission to “replace judgment with understanding, prejudice with compassion and ignorance with knowledge.” 

“Pete, along with Mickey Helms, the Property Manager, are a very important part of the reason that The Havens has been sustained to this very moment,” said Warren. 

In 2020, The Havens’ board requested RAIN’s expertise in support services, management, and fundraising. On March 1 of this year, The Havens expanded its board bringing on Warren as Board Chair and creating an advisory committee. Today, The Havens operates under its 501(c)3 nonprofit and RAIN provides programmatic and fundraising support. According to Warren, they are still getting to know each other and be good partners. “We just wanted to make sure this property is preserved for our community,” she said. 

There are 6,665 people living with HIV in Mecklenburg County according to 2019 data from AIDSVu which tracks the impact of the virus on communities across the United States. Of those, only 70.7 percent are linked to HIV care. 

Since that initial request from Mangum so many years ago, both RAIN and Haven House have evolved their offered services, client needs and the number of clients. “What we’ve been able to do,” Warren offers, “is to begin to understand, on a deeper level, what all the issues are and then what the priorities should be.” 

Stable housing has been closely linked to positive health outcomes, and 25 years after the founding of The Havens, it is still a major priority for people living with HIV in Charlotte.

“Affordable housing is something that people are very interested in right now because there is no affordable housing in Charlotte [and] there is no affordable housing for people with disabilities,” says attorney Lee Robertson who chairs RAIN’s board of directors. The Haven’s model aims to eradicate the stigma surrounding both disabilities as well as homelessness.

According to the HOPWA 20 strategic plan, “many PLWHA (people living with HIV/AIDS) face multiple life challenges that present unique barriers to accessing housing, care and services. These challenges, especially if compounded by experiences of housing discrimination, stigma or limited local affordable housing options, often jeopardize individuals’ chances of remaining stably housed.”

HOPWA, or Housing Opportunities for Persons With AIDS, was established as part of the Cranston-Gonzalez National Affordable Housing Act of 1990. It provides funding to eligible jurisdictions to address the housing needs of persons living with HIV/AIDS and their families. 

A National Model

While The Havens still receives some of its funding from HUD grants and federal support, it is not currently receiving HOPWA funds. In April, HUD announced a $41 million grant program to fund efforts that use housing as an effective structural intervention to end HIV. “We know safe, stable housing is critical for persons living with HIV to best manage their health,” said HUD Secretary Marcia L. Fudge in a press statement.

Programs across the country are addressing these needs in similar ways. Seattle’s Downtown Emergency Service Center (DESC) created a housing first model that has been featured in HOPWA’s “best practices series.” Founded in 1979, the organization grew from providing emergency shelter to being a nationally recognized leader in innovative strategies that end homelessness. 

In 2020, they opened Hobson Place, providing 85 affordable studio apartments with supportive services on-site. A second phase is expected to be complete in early 2022 with physical and behavioral healthcare clinics in addition to 92 more affordable housing units. Hobson is part of 18 supportive housing facilities owned and managed by DESC in addition to a scattered site housing program. 

In New Orleans, the Belle Reve was the first nonprofit assisted living facility in the state to serve people with HIV. The organization has expanded services to provide affordable housing for aging adults 62 years and older, but continue to provide on-site case management and at least forty percent of the apartment units serve tenants earning no more than 60 percent of area median income. Throughout COVID-19, Belle Reve House has kept the virus contained and kept the residents safe in a city where transmission rates are incredibly high.

The Southern U.S. accounts for approximately 45 percent of all people living with an HIV diagnosis in the United States and more than half (51 percent) of all new diagnoses in 2018. 

Community Support

During her time at RAIN, Warren witnessed the impact that stigma has on the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS. Its something that the national home improvement Lowe’s recognizes as well. The company is headquartered in Mooresville and recently made the decision to aim its Foundation’s funding efforts in and around the immediate Charlotte Metro region. 

After interacting with RAIN for some time, the Lowe’s Foundation decided to pay The Havens a visit in June, 2021. “We want to make sure we have safe and affordable housing,” Chief Financial Officer for Lowe’s Dave Denton told WSOC-TV. In a surprised check reveal, Lowes Foundation awarded The Havens $200,000 in grant money and another $50,000 in extra funds. The money will help renovate 25 accommodation units and common areas of the property. 

In 2020, the foundation announced they would be allotting $9.25 million in total to Charlotte-area charitable organizations. Thus far, that has included Charlotte Museum of History, Central Piedmont Community College, Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont, Habitat for Humanity of the Charlotte Region, Veterans Bridge Home, A Roof Above, Innovation Alley and Time Out Youth, among others. 

The recognition of typically marginalized voices is something Lowe’s continually strives to achieve. The hardware and home-improvement corporation is headed by Marvin Ellison, who is one of only four Black Fortune 500 CEOs. 

As part of that commitment, $3.87 million is supporting homeownership in Mecklenburg and Iredell Counties. Lowe’s also donated $200,000 to LISC Charlotte for neighborhood revitalization projects in the Historic West End. 

“Our immediate goal is to stabilize the property,” Warren explains. “In the last few years, when HUD funding no longer covered [all] the issues The Havens was having, our goal has become to take care of the immediate needs that have risen, while also working towards an attractive, comforting feel for the residents.”

Warren, Robertson and the boards of RAIN and The Havens maintain that when someone has a place to live, it immediately raises the bar on their quality of life by providing comforts everyone seeks, resulting in an improved sense of well-being and overall happiness.

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