A hospital for people with HIV/AIDS expands its services.
For almost 30 years, Casey House has provided care to Torontonians living with HIV/AIDS, home care, and other supportive healthcare programs. For some patients, it has been a home away from home when they needed the support most. Although it will remain in the neighbourhood, the hospital is going to move.
The change in location was driven by one goal: to expand the services and care offered to patients.
At its new site, a 58,000-square-foot facility adjacent to Casey House’s existing location, a new day health program will be launched, offering wound care, hot lunches, massage therapy, physiotherapy, antiretroviral therapy support, and connections to places like Fife House, where a patient can get peer and housing support.
Construction of the facility is scheduled to be substantially completed by December 2016 with occupancy commencing late 2016 to early 2017.
“We’re fortunate in that [the old building] is just across the street and that we’re able to continue to see it—that was part of our plan as well,” said Lisa McDonald, the spokesperson for Casey House. “We didn’t want to sell that building and have it torn down and it be used for condos or anything like that.”
Casey House is currently located at 9 Huntley Street, and while the new facility is a mere 97 metres away, at 571 Jarvis, it’s the site of a heritage property known as the “Grey Lady.”
“Instead of us going out to people where they are, there will be a program where people can come to us to receive all different sorts of services,” said McDonald. “The day health program is new in that it’s all in one spot and that it’s greatly enlarged and serving a lot more people.”
Casey House is working with Fife House to provide housing for people living with HIV at its current location, once Casey House’s move to the Grey Lady is complete.
Casey House will still own the Huntley Street building, but McDonald said it’s not confirmed at this point what it will be used for.
That location has a long legacy of supporting people who live with HIV, McDonald said, and Casey House would like it to continue to contribute in some way.
Casey House purchased the Grey Lady in the early 2000s, thanks to a generous donor. A $32 million construction contract was awarded in 2015.
“To me, the project represents what makes Toronto great—the idea that there’s a community that cares, and you don’t find that very often in the world,” said Siamak Hariri, founding partner at Hariri Pontarini Architects and partner-in-charge for the Casey House project.
Back in 1986, the search began for what is now Casey House’s current location, guided by the need for proximity to a downtown hospital, to occupy a building that could accommodate at least 10 people within a home-like environment, and to be located near the LGBTQ community.
Rooming houses along Jarvis and Sherbourne streets were considered, including a house in Donvale, but those were eventually rejected.
Meanwhile, the owner of 123 Isabella Street (a.k.a. 9 Huntley Street) was willing to sell, and it proved a good fit. Like the current move to the Grey Lady, there was little opposition from neighbourhood association groups.
“Casey House is a highly visible institution embedded in a distinct community,” reads a 1995 paper written by Quentin P. Chiotti and Alun E. Joseph on the location of Casey House.
It states that, in 1988, when a door-to-door campaign to inform the neighbours of the exact role and function of Casey House was conducted, only one resident expressed discomfort with having an AIDS hospice in the neighbourhood. A similar lack of opposition was also seen when an HIV positive group home was placed at 127 Isabella St.
(The 127 Isabella St. Charitable Organization closed its doors in the spring of 2009. When the charity closed its bank account, the residual funds—over $10,000—were donated to the Toronto People With AIDS Foundation.)
“Part of the project is renovating and making a bridge between the old and the new buildings,” said McDonald. “That’s always been warmly welcomed, [the building] is an important part of the streetscape, that’s the story I’ve heard, I haven’t heard any negatives about it.”
The 1995 report explained that Casey House is a symbolic place in the LGBTQ community’s fight against AIDS and representative of the community’s empowerment to deal with an issue “marginalized by the state.” It attributes the success of Casey House’s location to the communal empowerment on specific issues made possible by the politicization of the community subsequent to attacks on “gay lifestyle” such as the bathhouse raids in 1981.
“We have clients and volunteers and all the people who continue to be a part of Casey House’s history,” said McDonald. “Staff who will be reminders of the legacy of Casey House who hold a lot of history and institutional knowledge with them.”
The plan for the new Casey House location won a Canadian Architects Award of Excellence in 2013, and the theme for the design is Embrace.
According to Hariri Pontarini Architects’ website, “the new structure embraces the existing building, preserving its qualities and organizing day-to-day user experience around a new landscaped central garden court.”
“How do you combine the challenge of old and new and make the outcome greater than what there was before?” said Hariri.
“This sliver courtyard is a big concept because there’s this stigma around AIDS that says [you] need privacy, but of course you need community because people with the disease rely on other people. So it’s a place where you feel like you can sit and you can see who’s in the building that day, but we had to do it in such a way where you can’t be exposed too much to the street.”
The courtyard Hariri refers to will be an open space in the centre of the home.
Hariri said that the move is important because Casey House has a right to be seen.
“You think of the National Ballet School on Jarvis—why can’t Casey House be on Jarvis like that too?” he said.