By Jordan Bowen | Social Work Intern – HIV Day Center
On an unseasonably cold morning, a well-tailored man entered the basement of Ainsworth United Church of Christ, 2941 NE Ainsworth St. He asks to be called Jon and is one of dozens of members of Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon’s Day Center. The drop-in shelter has served people living with HIV since 1990.
The organization says it is the country’s oldest standalone, communitybased center of its kind. When the Day Center is open, Jon drops in between errands around the city. Unlike many center members, Jon has secured affordable housing. The stability allows him to advocate for others and be involved in the community.
Jon takes the bus from downtown Portland to the Concordia center multiple times a week. “I make friends here,” he says. “I do like it here. I enjoy the place. My friends come here. And the food is decent.”
The Day Center serves as a kind of post office, dining hall, laundromat, pop-up health clinic, and social club. Surrounded by the quiet, tree-lined streets of Concordia, it is a refuge from Portland’s bleaker scenes. The walls are lined with comfortable chairs where some members can take a much-needed nap after a hard night on the street. One morning, waves of laughter could be heard through the basement as the movie Death Becomes Her played on a screen.
I first met Jon through my internship at Portland State University’s Master of Social Work program. He has a quick wit, is far more fastidious about his clothing than I am, and often gives me nutrition advice.
Others at the center need more help than Jon does to navigate life with HIV. Together with staff, interns and local volunteers serve meals, coordinate laundry and showers, show movies, and sometimes go on outings to art museums. We help people get IDs, groceries, or a bus pass, or connect them with housing services like the Cascade AIDS Project.
Recently, I sat in on a support group for long-term survivors who wrestle with the weight of surviving the AIDS era and aging with the virus. Project Coordinator Chautauqua Cabine, who grew up in northeast Portland and went to Concordia University, lost a cousin to AIDS more than 20 years ago. Her job goes far beyond paperwork and case management. People sit by her desk in her small, shared office, sometimes only to talk and be comforted.
“Everybody ha s different needs,” Cabine says. It’s kind of like a friendship. There’s trust.”
The center helps bolster members’ selfworth, she says. “When they’re not here, they tell me they don’t feel seen. When they’re here, they feel like they’re part of society. They don’t feel invisible.”
The Day Center largely depends on federal grants to operate, but Program Manager Taylor Silvey says inflation has outpaced funding, especially when it comes to the cost of food. The Day Center must stretch its limited resources to meet needs. In January, the organization had to begin closing an hour early, close altogether on Wednesdays and lay off two part-time staff to make ends meet.
Meanwhile, more Portlanders with HIV need help with finding food, work and shelter. According to the CDC, BIPOC and low-income people are now significantly more likely to be diagnosed with HIV, and many who come to the Day Center have lost jobs or housing since COVID-19.
This summer, the annual Dining Out for Life fundraising event will encourage Portlanders to pitch in at restaurants, bars, and cafes. From June 20–22, participating venues choose to donate 10% of proceeds or $500 to the Day Center and OHSU’s Partnership Project. McMenamins locations such as the Kennedy School in Concordia are participating, along with other venues around the city.
“HIV is still prevalent in our community, and unfortunately there’s still stigma associated with it,” says Silvey. “Dining Out for Life gives us a chance to talk about HIV, support people living with the virus and have some fun over a shared meal.”
The EMO Day Center is always grateful for volunteers and donations of food and clothing. It also encourages more local restaurants and bars to participate in this year’s Dining Out for Life. Please visit HIVDayCenter.org or email email@example.com to help your neighbors who are living with HIV.
Jordan Bowen is a freelance writer and former broadcast news producer who is pursuing a Master in Social Work at Portland State University