Preston Barnette loves his job. As the head chef at Calcutta House, a non-profit organization that provides housing and support services for people living with AIDS in the Philadelphia and Delaware Valley area, he is always smiling at his residents every morning when he serves them breakfast. And the 18 residents in Calcutta House’s 16th Street and Girard Avenue location usually smile back. But lately, the lack of a state budget from July until early October loomed over the non-profit, giving them less to smile about.
“There was frustration all around the building. It was pretty rough for us for a while,” Barnette said. “The nurses and myself are direct care to the residents. We get to know them on a personal level.”
And when funding gets cut, it trickles down. “We didn’t feel it for the first two months, but then the next month, it got really bad.” he said. “We used to not have to worry about buying a lot of things together, but now they come in piece by piece.” Things like paper goods and extracurricular activities—once a main facet of the organization—are now missing, but it’s not the worst loss. “A lot of people in the kitchen got cut,” Barnette said. “There used to be a team of eight, now there are only three of us.”
The city budget impasse and cuts over the past year have affected many non-profits extensively, and Calcutta House was no exception. “I don’t think there has ever been a situation before like this at Calcutta House,” said Executive Director Matt Teter. The organization has always been a well-supported cause by the city, and received on average $300,000 a year from state allocations. Even with a $100,000 drop in funds though, Calcutta House remains stable. “Thankfully, we did not have to turn anyone away,” Teter said. “Actually, turning people away is not an option. This is a full- capacity operation.”
So in order to not turn anyone away, Calcutta House has been participating in a number of different fundraisers to acquire the money they need for day-to-day operations. A major source of income is the annual AIDS Walk, which is held by the Art Museum district, and is one of the largest AIDS walks nationwide.
Heather Osborne, director of development and communications, said that this year the total amount of money raised for Philadelphia AIDS organizations was $350,000, despite the bad weather that loomed over the walk. As far as participation from Calcutta House, the members did the best that they could.
“There were six registered walkers, and we always have residents who walk but do not solicit funds,” Osbourne said. “So, they don’t officially register. Also, I think with the stinky weather and the fact that many of our residents have limited mobility, not many turned up.” They raised $1,300 internally, and will receive a portion of the total proceeds once the final financial numbers are determined.
More than 20,000 Philadelphians are living with HIV/AIDS. At any given time, one-third of all Americans living with HIV/AIDS are either homeless or in danger of losing their housing. In Philadelphia, the problem is much worse. The rate of people in the city infected with HIV was higher than in New York City and five times the national average, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics from last year.
In a city where homelessness is an unremitting problem and at its highest rate in the past 10 years, housing for those in Philadelphia who are infected with HIV may be a good way to prevent the spread of AIDS. In addition, the death rate of homeless AIDS patients is seven to nine times the death rate of the general population.
Teter has a plan to make sure that the Calcutta House is not facing the same issues come next year. “We are really taking a strong leadership role in non-profit advocacy groups,” he said. The group is the Southeastern Pennsylvania Coalition for Essential Services, and it currently contains over 70 non-profits dedicated to bringing out the budget on time next year. “One thing that I’m going to push for is that on the date that the new budget is supposed to be passed, it actually gets done. That message needs to be sent right away.”
But even with the cuts, Barnette is still optimistic. “Christmas is one of my favorite times around here,” he said. “Everyone gets involved, we have the tree, it’s like we’re all family. Well, I guess we are their [the residents’] family, because many of them don’t have families.” This year’s Christmas party will be funded by , a local organization that is donating food, and by the always helpful volunteers that are present on a daily basis.
“We’re a non-profit,” Barnette said. “And we’re making it.”
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