Bill has lived in the Cal Anderson House for 20 years, his story entwined with the city and the history of AIDS in Seattle.
Bill first learned he was HIV-positive in 1986 and was diagnosed with AIDS in 1992. At the time, he had been living in Reno, a city he loved, but one without many services for people living with this disease. His doctor suggested he moved somewhere with more services but the wait time for care in places like New York City or San Francisco was sometimes years long. Seattle, on the other hand, could offer him the support he needed immediately.
Bill recalls how the Seattle community opened its heart to people with HIV. “If you were diagnosed, and you had the ability to travel, you moved to Seattle,” he says. Seattle had support groups, doctors, transitional housing, meals, and hospice care. Most importantly, it had community. Bill became involved in the Bailey-Boushay House, a local organization that primarily offered hospice care to those affected with the disease, but also support groups and resources for those recently diagnosed.
Shortly after his arrival, AIDS Housing of Washington (now Building Changes) came to the Boushay House to discuss housing needs and opportunities for the community. Bill joined a focus group, where the idea to create an independent living complex for those living with AIDS was introduced. There seemed to be great support for the idea, but after the focus group disbanded, Bill didn’t know what became of the project.
Bill eventually found a home in the Rainier Valley, commuting 50 minutes by bus for treatment at Harborview Medical Center multiple times a week. Following one of his appointments, Bill was walking down Broadway when he saw a sign advertising the future home of “the state’s first independent housing for people living with HIV/AIDS.” He immediately called his social worker – it turned out this was the same project he participated in a focus group for and they were now accepting applications.
The “opportunity to live people going through the same things you are” was too important to pass up. When he heard from the Northwest Aids Foundation (now Lifelong AIDS Alliance) who owned the building at the time that he was accepted, he was ecstatic and immediately started making plans to move.
The building was opened in 1994 at a ceremony attended by the mayor and Cal Anderson, at the time the state’s only openly gay legislator who himself had AIDs. Bill was the second resident to move in and has called the building home ever since. He loves the location: close to Harborview and other services, and how it feels safe and welcoming to live in a community with people who are going through similar life experiences. Bill says many people feel this way, and few choose to leave once they move in. In over 20 years of living at the Cal, Bill can only remember two people who have left (though, sadly, many have passed away due to their illness).
Bill is an integral member of the community. Before his health got too bad, he worked for Plymouth Housing, was a regular attendee at building meetings and events, and volunteered for a number of local organizations. Just last year, he was nominated by Plymouth for his dedication to the community and rewarded with a beautiful handmade quilt from Seattle Modern Quilter’s Guild.
Bill loves his home and is thankful for the comfort and support it offers. He hopes to build a greater sense of community among his neighbors and elevate the specific needs of residents, a goal shared by Capitol Hill Housing, which took over management of the building from Plymouth Housing in 2016.
Bill points out that the Cal Anderson is a lot more than just an apartment building for residents, it’s their home. When so many aspects of their life are so challenging, having a safe, welcoming place to return to is invaluable.