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Heart-to-Heart: Norman's Story

Providing hope to people faced with homelessness     

Norman is a kind, energetic man who talks with his hands and always with a smile.  He ended up in Seattle in April of 1993. Originally from Brooklyn, New York, Norman left home for a fresh start. He went through a difficult break-up and was struggling from the loss of losing his mother to cancer. Brooklyn was also home to his HIV diagnosis. It’s where he learned of his status. It’s where he lost his friends. Stigma was still a huge factor in the 1980s, so much so that when he lost one of his friends to AIDS, the family didn’t share the cause of their sons’ death to those around him.  

“They locked everyone out,” Norman says.

Though he left his past in Brooklyn he carried his HIV with him. Norman arrived in Seattle in denial of his status. He went to the STD Clinic in Seattle convinced that the test results that he received in New York were incorrect. Despite his absolute certainty ― the test results came back positive.

He was devastated. Again.

This, combined with not having a place to stay, made the transition to his new home difficult. He didn’t know anybody in Seattle and he didn’t have much money, so his housing options were limited. Norman was able to secure emergency housing first through Union Gospel Mission’s emergency shelter program and then Compass Center’s transitional housing.

Eventually, Norman knew that he wanted to be able to live on his own in a stable apartment building but he needed a dependable income to make his rent. He started working cooking jobs all over the city.  He also became a Home Health Aide after being inspired by his mother’s caretaker back home. After a series of setbacks resulting from the stress of trying to balance work, being on medication, and getting to and from doctor’s appointments, he developed a drinking problem and ultimately ended up homeless.

Lifelong was able to find housing for Norman in a safe, clean apartment building. His medical case manager at Madison Clinic referred him to Lifelong’s (then, the Northwest AIDS Foundation) housing program as well as Lifelong’s food program, Chicken Soup Brigade, for groceries and meals. Things were starting to look up. Lifelong was able to find housing for Norman in a safe, clean apartment building. He began taking a combination HIV drug that didn’t cause severe side effects.   

“Having a place of your own makes you feel like a regular human being,” says Norman. “Without Lifelong, I would have had to tow a rough road. At points where I stumbled, I had this network of people that supported me. They were my team.”

Today Norman feels great. He has been living in his current apartment for two years.  He is eager to share his story in the hopes that people who are in a tough bind know that there are resources available to them in the city until they can get back on their feet. He calls Seattle home. The beauty of the Pacific NW – the Cascades, Mount St. Helens, the Puget Sound – keep him here, as does the support from community health organizations like Lifelong. He is currently weighing his options for what to do with the next chapter of his life.

“At age 54 I can afford to take my time,” he says. “I’m at a crossroads. I am celebrating life!”