St. Francis House and St. Damian House offer small, family-like atmospheres for AIDS-afflicted residents who all too often have been abandoned by friends and family. Now, the two houses, operating on a total annual budget of $60,000, care for the precious lives of 14 men.
While those numbers may appear to be small in effect, Monk James' vision doesn’t stop at the front doors of those two homes. In the future, he hopes to open a third house for HIV-positive women, which will also house, feed and clothe residents—all of whom pitch in to help
“Let us love not in word or speech, but in deed and truth” (1 John 3:18).
with chores. And like the two existing homes, social service agencies will handle health-care needs, including required nursing care. In addition, they will assist residents applying for governmental benefits that will enable them to live on their own. Although some residents have inevitably died amid the brothers’ care, most residents, whose ages range from 19 to 55, move out on their own in a few months.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity for people like myself, who otherwise would be out on the street with nowhere to go,” says Bradley, a 13-month resident of St. Damian House, who’s waiting to receive his Medicare and Social Security benefits. “We can live with some pride, even though we go through our ordeal.”
While the homes are founded upon religious principles, the brothers don’t force their religious beliefs on residents. However, everyone is free to participate in various daily services held in St. Francis' small chapel, which is sparse to the eye but for beautiful glowing icons on the dark wooden walls. “Some don’t believe when they come in or when they leave,” Monk James says. “But that’s not what we do. We do action, not words.”
“Brother Jim and his caregivers want only to love these men, trusting that the love they show in housing, feeding and caring for them will communicate the love God manifests in Christ,” says Rev. George Garin, formerly of Orlando’s St. Michael’s Episcopal Church.
Some years ago, the brothers, with the help of a phone call from a doctor with the local health department, discovered an ailing Jamaican man lying on a sleeping mat inside a local homeless shelter. So sick with AIDS, he resembled a concentration camp survivor. The brothers quickly and
unconditionally embraced the man by bringing him to St. Damian’s. They also arranged for his brother and grown son to travel from New York for a visit during his month-long stay. In the end, the man used his final breath to utter two simple sentences with the brothers at his side: “I am not alone. I am not alone.”