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Doorways offers care for those with HIV/AIDS


Emily Edwards was homeless and working as a prostitute to support a long-term drug addiction when she moved to Doorways, a residential program for those with HIV/AIDS. UMNS photos by John Gordon.

By John Gordon*
Feb. 26, 2009 | ST. LOUIS (UMNS)


Doorways is a 36-bed supportive housing facility near downtown St. Louis.

As snow covers the ground and the temperature drops to 18 degrees, Emily Edwards sits in her warm apartment and reflects on how her life has changed.

Six months ago, she says, she was homeless and working as a prostitute to support a long-term drug addiction. Things changed dramatically when she moved to Doorways, a residential program for those with HIV/AIDS.

“I would be standing on the street corner,” says Edwards, 47. I honestly believe that if Doorways didn’t come and save me, I would be dead by now.”

Doorways, which receives support from United Methodist congregations in the area, provides a safe place to stay, nutritious meals and medical supervision in a 36-bed supportive housing facility near downtown St. Louis.  The organization also offers help with rent, mortgage payments and utilities for HIV/AIDS patients and families who are able to live independently.

For Edwards, the comforts of home at the supportive housing facility are a stark contrast to life on the streets.

“When I first got here, I flipped my light switches up and down, up and down, because I had lights,” she says.  “I laid, bounced in my bed, because I had a bed that I didn’t have to sleep with a big knife under my pillow and dressed in my clothes.”

Doorways was founded in 1988 by community leaders and representatives from the area’s major religious denominations. Over the last two decades, according to Lynne Cooper, Doorways president, the organization has received financial support and “moral leadership” from United Methodists.


“We do it because it’s the right thing,” says Lynne Cooper, president of the 20-year-old Doorways program.

“Today, the people who have HIV and AIDS are poor; they’re often people of color,” says Cooper. “They really don’t have an advocate unless the church speaks up or the faith community or people like Doorways speak up.”

Research has also shown stable housing helps reduce the spread of AIDS. With proper treatment, those with AIDS or who are HIV-positive are living longer.

“When Doorways started, it was about an average of two years from diagnosis to death,” says Cooper.  “And today, some of our clients with HIV will live maybe as long as I do.”

When neighbors opposed a planned Doorways facility, members of Lafayette Park United Methodist Church rallied to their support and helped ease those concerns. The Rev. Kathleen Wilder says many of the church’s members have AIDS.

I used to joke that if your family didn’t like you, we would,” says Wilder. “And that’s kind of how the nature of this church is. The people here, just with open arms, welcome people.”

Doorways residents are quick to praise the care they receive and the bonds they develop with staff members. “They genuinely love us and care about us and that makes a difference,” says Scott Luckett, 45, who is HIV-positive.

Before moving to Doorways, Luckett felt like “less than a person” after the treatment he received at a St. Louis hospital. “The hospital had actually put me out in their parking lot for two nights,” he explains, “because the doctors there kept saying, ’Well, there’s nothing else we can do and we’re tired of you coming in here.’”


“They genuinely love us and care about us. And that makes a difference,” says Scott Luckett, who is HIV-positive.

Cooper believes there are compassionate as well as economic reasons to provide care for HIV/AIDS patients. “We do it because it’s the right thing,” she says. “But we also know that it saves our community a great deal of money for people to be housed in adequate and safe places to live, rather than to spend more time than they need to in the hospitals.”

Edwards calls Doorways workers “my angels” who helped change her life.

“People look past the drug-addicted prostitute,” she says. “Now, I am just a beautiful person trying to get my life right and live with HIV. That’s what it’s all about and this place has given me that.”

*John Gordon is a freelance producer and writer based in Marshall, Texas.

News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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