Sidebar to HIV/AIDS series by Clare Howard.

PEORIA, Ill. -- Gov. Rod Blagojevich announced in April that Pioneer Civic Services will receive $150,000 for renovating two buildings that house people with HIV/AIDS.


The money is part of $2.4 million given to 16 community-based organizations throughout the state to provide housing services for people with HIV/AIDS.


"Housing is an important piece of containing the HIV epidemic by ensuring that low-income people living with HIV are in a safe living environment," said Dr. Eric Whitaker, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health.


Holly Mehawich, HIV program coordinator at the Peoria City/County Health Department and chairwoman of the board of Pioneer Civic Services, said a recent census of homelessness in Peoria identified 413 people and an estimated 10 percent of them are HIV positive.


Homelessness seriously impedes health care for people with HIV/AIDS.


"We have a significant need for housing. People don't realize the need is so critical here in central Illinois," Mehawich said.


Carole Hoke, housing case manager at the Heart of Illinois HIV/AIDS Center, said her organization has a waiting list with 18 clients.


The units covered in this $150,000 grant are near Downtown so residents have access to the clinic and to services, Hoke said.


"When people are diagnosed with HIV/AIDS they can be embraced by family or they can be rejected, alienated by family," she said.


Mehawich said Pioneer Civic Services expects to start renovation on a project at 1318 SW Adams St. which once housed Southside Office of Concern. The complex, Riverside Apartments, will include 30 housing units for people with HIV/AIDS. This project will be Peoria's first one-stop complex for people with HIV/AIDS. The facility will provide support services including case management and medical care for its residents.


Work is expected to start in late summer, with occupancy by fall 2008.


Clare Howard can be reached at 686-3250 or choward@pjstar.com.