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D.C. AIDS Patients Left in the Lurch for Shelter

For weeks, she had tried to keep her fears from Ja'Waun, who was in second grade at a nearby Catholic school and talked about becoming an artist. But he knew. And he worried.

His drawing book in his pocket, Ja'Waun said, "I don't want my mom to get sicker."

Edwards, 28, learned she had HIV four years ago. She said she contracted the virus from an old boyfriend. The disease has since progressed to full-blown AIDS.

In 2007, while waiting for a housing voucher, she was placed in an apartment building run by the nonprofit Northwest Church Family Network. She moved in with Ja'Waun, a younger son and her infant daughter.

She hung green curtains on grimy windows and dressed the beds in Spider-Man sheets. She bought fans and plastic bins to store toys and medical records.

Edwards enrolled at the University of the District of Columbia, taking social work classes with plans to become a case manager for people with AIDS. She has struggled with bouts of dizziness, nausea and mood swings, at one point dropping 15 pounds over two months, but has fought her way back to health.

Then, in late 2008, Edwards learned that the city had cut off funding for the church network. Executive Director Jerry Coleman said the organization was told there wasn't enough money. Coleman said he has been trying to help about half a dozen families find other places to live, and the group has fixed up its building in Northwest.

The HIV/AIDS Administration said the church network did not compete successfully for a new grant.

By June, desperate for help, Edwards was calling housing advocates and AIDS case managers.

In August, one month before the deadline, she received the call she had been waiting for.

She got the housing voucher. She quickly started searching for a clean, safe apartment building, calling dozens of landlords. In September, she found a rental house in Southeast. There were no mice, and her children would have their own bedrooms.

Edwards, who recently landed a job as an outreach worker with a local AIDS nonprofit group, said she will continue to speak out.

"People shouldn't have to be on the streets," she said. "Everybody deserves a place to live."


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