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Beyond HIV/AIDS & Homelessness: The Healing Power of Art, Home & Community

With his beaming, open smile, Stanley Stone, encourages a group of artists, all living with HIV/AIDS, to explore their creativity. Today the artists are working on colorful self-portraits using pastels. Their works are stunning and powerful.

Under the guidance of Stan, Activities & Volunteer Coordinator at Catholic Charities Peter Claver Community, a residential care facility for formerly homeless individuals living with HIV/AIDS, the artists explore their imaginations and life experience in a safe, supportive environment. All are aware that the care they receive at Peter Claver has given them new opportunities for healing, growth, and community.

“When you are homeless or marginally housed, it is tough to think about creating beautiful art when your entire focus is on survival,” said Stan. “By providing a home, meals, medical assistance, and activities such as art classes, our residents are free to focus on the things that bring them joy.”

Founded in 1985 in the midst of the AIDS crisis, Peter Claver Community originally provided hospice care for homeless San Franciscans who were suffering from and dying of AIDS. At the time, Catholic Charities was one of only an exceptional few organizations to rise above the fear and misunderstanding associated with HIV/AIDS and provide impoverished and afflicted individuals with housing and compassionate care.

Today with the advent of life-sustaining drugs that have increased the longevity of those with HIV/AIDS, Peter Claver is a lively community of care, dignity, and hope. The dedicated, exceptional Peter Claver staff, Stan’s art classes, and other activities like monthly adventures around the Bay Area, engage the residents, many of whom have called Peter Claver home for multiple years, some decades. The activities encourage residents to build community while exploring both their external environments and their internal worlds. Together, these opportunities provide powerful healing and inspiration for people often forgotten in the post-AIDS crisis.

“Some of our residents have been HIV-positive for decades,” said Tonja Sagun, Program Director of Peter Claver and Leland House Communities and HIV/AIDS advocate. “We are deeply thankful for the medical protocols that mean life for so many who live with HIV. However, it also means people forget their continuing plight and that there are those newly diagnosed. Our staff strives every day, to help our residents feel loved and important – and help them heal physically, emotionally, and spiritually.”

Peter Claver Community is one of six Catholic Charities programs serving HIV-positive individuals experiencing homelessness, many with co-occurring mental health and substance abuse challenges: Assisted Housing & Health Program (AHHP), Derek Silva Community, Hazel Betsey Community, Leland House Community, and Rita da Cascia Community. The six programs are an integral and vital part of housing and homelessness solutions in San Francisco.

On this day, there is palpable excitement during Stan’s art class as nine Peter Claver artists prepare for their upcoming art exhibit at Spark Arts Gallery in the Castro. “It is an honor for me to provide the spark that fires up our residents to create and produce art. I encourage first-time artists to move from “I can’t” to “I can.” And I provide the tools and space for those who consider themselves artists but have not been able to create,” said Stan.

It is a remarkable partnership that heals, awes, and inspires.


Join Us for Our Opening Reception

Catholic Charities will host an opening reception for the Peter Claver Community art show on Thursday, February 6, 2020 from 6-9 PM at Spark Arts Gallery at 4229 18th Street in San Francisco. Entitled Inner Square, the art reflects the artists’ views of the outside world, as well as, their own inner musings.

The reception and art show are open to everyone and all artwork is available for purchase.


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