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What Mother Teresa could learn in a leather bar; gay men's response to AIDS shows how the larger community can help heal itself.

At 5 a.m. on February 6, Tony Harding died in a quiet comer of D.C. General Hospital. Like a number of other patients in the public hospital wing, he was young, indigent, uninsured, estranged from his family, and mentally ill. But unlike most of the others, Tony Harding had AIDS. In that, he was profoundly lucky.

AIDS. Luck. It seems unthinkable to couple those words. But in the weeks after Tony's death, I found myself associating them often. For if his death was grim and undignified, the months that preceded it were not. He couldn't pay his rent; it was covered. He couldn't cook his food; it was delivered to him, steaming. He had no medical insurance; he got first-rate medical care, free. He lied on his social security forms; a lawyer straightened things out, pro bono. One Saturday night, he found himself handcuffed in a ward at St. Elizabeths mental hospital. As city officials moved to commit him, friends and advocates negotiated his release. Last Christmas, a man he hardly knew picked him up at his apartment in Shaw and drove him to Nordstrom. He returned with an utterly unnecessary, beautiful pair of shoes.

Tony Harding, mind you, was not an activist or even a minor celebrity in Washington's gay community, nor was he well connected. The son of blue-collar parents from Crofton, Maryland, he spent his brief adulthood as a waiter at the American Cafe and as a clerk at Pan Am. He was, I suppose, an ordinary young man. Yet there was something remarkable about his dying. For a year, as he slowly lost command of his mind and body, he passed his days in the hands of agencies, hospitals, doctors, friends, and strangers. They did not let him fall.

This month, as we note the 10th anniversary of the first official report on the epidemic, the mark of the 110,000th life, this seems perhaps the dullest of silver linin s. But as debates over AIDS activism and medical research dominated our attention, a quiet development occurred in a few American cities. For the first time in recent history, AIDS brought members of the organized middle class into the ghetto of the human services bureaucracy. They found the system lacking, so they changed it. Outside the fragmented, assembly line world of social services, with an army of volunteers, the gay community built a new way of caring for some of society's most vulnerable members. Unfortunately, it is still only for the few.

Four days after Harding, David, another patient in the same D.C. General ward, died. The hospital moved the body to the morgue, recorded the occurrence in its files, and closed the case. Until a patient volunteered the information days later, David's doctor didn't know the young man was dead. David's case, not Tony's, shows how government care for the poor usually works. Which is precisely why the exception-the swords and plowshares of the urban AIDS network-should be shared.

The day Harding's brief obituary appeared in The Washington Post, the Metro section was dominated by a lawsuit against D.C.'s foster care system. Sixty-nine percent of children who were candidates for adoption had never had their files forwarded to the proper adoption unit. Five-year-olds were judged ready for "independent living." Volunteers willing to take children were turned away. In the chaos, some children were simply lost. A social worker explained, "A fire starts and then you put it out and then we move to the next." The children in foster care weren't, it seemed, really children. They were a paperwork problem that sat for years in someone's in-box.

In America, this is how we usually serve the needy: as little as we can get away with. Despite the work of advocates, Americans with steady jobs and health insurance don't hear of-and don't care about-the flaws in the social service system until problems reach crisis proportions. But even when the system isn't scandalous, it can rarely be confused with genuine service. For if poverty, homelessness, and disease have complex sources that demand rifleshot, differentiated responses, those complexities seldom touch the human services bureaucracy-government or nonprofit-because bureaucracies are driven by numbers. Every year, each of the D.C. government's hundreds of social service programs produces a performance evaluation chart that supposedly attests to the good use of its ample budget: a neat, McDonald's-style tally of numbers served. In an environment like this, it's understandable that only what can be counted tends to get done. What is markedly absent is compassion for, and responsiveness to, messy individual lives.

It was this sort of "service" that horrified Cliff Morrison when the first few dozen cases of what would later be called AIDS began to crowd San Francisco General Hospital in the early eighties. Nurses refused to touch the patients; doctors and orderlies rushed through their duties and ran away. As a nurse, Morrison knew this unfriendly service was only an amplified version of the care usually offered the hospital's largely low-class clientele-or, for that matter, average hospital patients anywhere in the country. Patients were jolted awake at all hours for treatments, even when sleep was their only escape from pain. Dinner was microwaved, congealed, often cold. Medical students came at 5 a.m. to examine them. Nurses barged into their rooms without knocking. But now there was a critical difference-the attitude of the new guys on the ward.

"I remember one of the first patients on the unit, a 22-year-old man from Iowa," says Morrison. "He had advanced Kaposi's sarcoma; he knew he wasn't going to live much longer." He wanted his lover to visit, but the rules restricted AIDS activism and medical research dominated our attention, a quiet development occurred in a few American cities. For the first time in recent history, AIDS brought members of the organized middle class into the ghetto of the human services bureaucracy. They found the system lacking, so they changed it. Outside the fragmented, assembly line world of social services, with an army of volunteers, the gay community built a new way of caring for some of society's most vulnerable members. Unfortunately, it is still only for the few.

Four days after Harding, David, another patient in the same D.C. General ward, died. The hospital moved the body to the morgue, recorded the occurrence in its files, and closed the case. Until a patient volunteered the information days later, David's doctor didn't know the young man was dead. David's case, not Tony's, shows how government care for the poor usually works. Which is precisely why the exception-the swords and plowshares of the urban AIDS network-should be shared.

The day Harding's brief obituary appeared in The Washington Post, the Metro section was dominated by a lawsuit against D.C.'s foster care system. Sixty-nine percent of children who were candidates for adoption had never had their files forwarded to the proper adoption unit. Five-year-olds were judged ready for "independent living." Volunteers willing to take children were turned away. In the chaos, some children were simply lost. A social worker explained, "A fire starts and then you put it out and then we move to the next." The children in foster care weren't, it seemed, really children. They were a paperwork problem that sat for years in someone's in-box.

In America, this is how we usually serve the needy: as little as we can get away with. Despite the work of advocates, Americans with steady jobs and health insurance don't hear of-and don't care about-the flaws in the social service system until problems reach crisis proportions. But even when the system isn't scandalous, it can rarely be confused with genuine service. For if poverty, homelessness, and disease have complex sources that demand rifleshot, differentiated responses, those complexities seldom touch the human services bureaucracy-government or nonprofit-because bureaucracies are driven by numbers. Every year, each of the D.C. government's hundreds of social service programs produces a performance evaluation chart that supposedly attests to the good use of its ample budget: a neat, McDonald's-style tally of numbers served. In an environment like this, it's understandable that only what can be counted tends to get done. What is markedly absent is compassion for, and responsiveness to, messy individual lives.

It was this sort of "service" that horrified Cliff Morrison when the first few dozen cases of what would later be called AIDS began to crowd San Francisco General Hospital in the early eighties. Nurses refused to touch the patients; doctors and orderlies rushed through their duties and ran away. As a nurse, Morrison knew this unfriendly service was only an amplified version of the care usually offered the hospital's largely low-class clientele-or, for that matter, average hospital patients anywhere in the country. Patients were jolted awake at all hours for treatments, even when sleep was their only escape from pain. Dinner was microwaved, congealed, often cold. Medical students came at 5 a.m. to examine them. Nurses barged into their rooms without knocking. But now there was a critical difference the attitude of the new guys on the ward.

"I remember one of the first patients on the unit, a 22-year-old man from

Iowa," says Morrison. "He had advanced Kaposi's sarcoma; he knew he wasn't going to live much longer." He wanted his lover to visit, but the rules restricted visitors to "family." He wanted painkillers, but he didn't want to lose his head. "He told us very firmly, 'I want morphine, but I want to know what's going on. I don't want to struggle to breathe.' Today we don't look at that as unreasonable," Morrison says, "but we just weren't used to having a patient lay it out that way." Over the next few months, there would be a hundred more like him.

Morrison knew that expecting to cow such vocal patients was not just futile, it was wrong. So he took his complaints-and with them, his ideas-to higherups at San Francisco General. While it was rare for a nurse to get the attention of hospital administrators, Morrison had a few distinct advantages-first among them the fear and helplessness of the hospital staff in dealing with this new and contagious disease. As a gay man, Morrison also had some clout with San Francisco's gay community, which was closely monitoring the hospital's response. But perhaps most important, Morrison had a plan: Give him space, and he would upend the usual way of running a hierarchical, big-city hospital ward. The administrators gave him that space.

In the new ward Morrison designed, patients, not administrators, decided who was "immediate family." The conventional visiting hours that excluded waiters, security guards, and other night-shift workers were abolished altogether. And in assembling a staff, Morrison began to look not just for credentials, but for compassion: nurses who wouldn't gingerly take a pulse and split, but who would sit on the bed, throw an arm around a shoulder, and listen.

Yet there was still too much even compassionate nurses couldn't always do: counsel lovers, help write letters to long-lost moms and dads. In the small-town community hospital of old, there were candy stripers and doctors' wives to make life a little more bearable for the patients, but this was a modem, urban, public hospital. "People weren't used to opening the doors to the public," says Morrison. "It can be a real hassle." But the stakes in this case were particularly high. "Finally, the hospital threw up its hands and said, Do what you have to do.

One of Morrison's early stabs at involving the community came in the winter of 1982, in a now-defunct leather bar in the city's South of Market district. When he walked into the loud and fusty room, he was rocked by a sense of futility. "They're going to laugh," he thought. But then someone pulled him up onto the makeshift stage. "I started stumbling through my five-minute presentation," he remembers, "and suddenly I realized the room had fallen silent. The entire bar stopped and listened." And when it was over, virtually every man in the bar reached for his wallet.

Thanks to dozens of other community leaders, similar scenes played out all over the city. Within months, Morrison's ward was deep in volunteers, emptying bedpans, running errands, holding hands. Patients complained that the hospital blankets were stiff and cold. A community group bought a blanket-warmer. To supplement the requisite microwaved dinners, a kitchen was set up and stocked with soda, coffee, snacks. Every Sunday, local restaurants catered a staff-patient-family brunch. A new projection TV sat in the lounge. "It was pie-in-the-sky stuff," says Morrison sheepishly. "Luxuries." But what was happening at San Francisco General wasn't just a matter of frills.

A comfortable hospital is still a hospital, after all. What patients really wanted was to get out and get back into whatever life was waiting. So Morrison's staff took on a task even more unconventional for a traditionally isolated public institution. They began suturing together a network of local clinics, hospices, welfare offices, and volunteers that would get patients out of the ward and back into the community. For some men, group homes and hospices run by nonprofit groups might be the answer; for those who had a home to go to, there were volunteers ready to deliver meals, pick up prescriptions, and do the laundry.

While such unconventional ideas brought people with AIDS from all over the country clamoring for beds on the public hospital ward, while writers from Randy Shilts to Frances Fitzgerald hailed the innovations, they sat less comfortably with the city hospital's own administration. "I spent all my time for two years battling the higher-ups," says Morrison. "Every time new ideas came up there was great resistance at every level. Part of it was homophobia and part of it was simply institutional. Large public hospitals are never eager to change. People said, We've been doing it our way for 40 years. Why should we make an exception now?"' The answer was obvious: The new way was working.

And soon, city administrators saw not only that it was good but that it was cheap. To treat an AIDS patient from diagnosis to death, the city of San Francisco spent 40 percent of the national average-a huge savings, even setting aside economies of scale. While that figure made a few bureaucrats in other cities sit up, the majority shook their heads. Only," they said, "in San Francisco." The subjective case

It's a fine old house in suburban Virginia: bay windows, high ceilings, a porch lined with chairs. On a trellis in the vegetable garden, several tomato plants grow. Inside the house, four impoverished young men are living with AIDS, with the help of D.C.'s Whitman-Walker Clinic.

Ten years ago, Whitman-Walker wasn't in the business of subsidized housing; it was the place you went when you got genital warts. Today, the 14th Street clinic has become, the city's largest health facility for people with AIDS. Besides offering group homes and low-cost medical care, the clinic provides its 900 clients with counseling, a food bank, a dental clinic, masseurs, and a battalion of buddies"volunteers who do anything from shopping to hand-holding to tending those tomatoes. In his last weeks, Tony Harding began falling out of bed at night. A buddy was there to pick him up off the floor.

If this is what good social services look like, it's not surprising that they happened first in the gay community. "Most people who advocate for the poor don't really believe that poverty could happen to them," offers a D.C. social worker who works with homeless women. "There is commitment, sure, but there is very little personal stake." As HIV moved through the gay community, on the other hand, the wall between server and served came down. A survey last year found that four out of five state directors of mental health have never worked with the mentally ill; on the other hand, two of the original 12 nurses on San Francisco General's 5A are now dead of AIDS. That knowledge creates a very different view of the client": The patient might someday be you.

The way to assess the work of a place like Whitman-Walker is not, however, through the staff's motivation; it is through people like Adam Gale, a 27year-old who arrived in D.C. in 1989. "When I came to this city, I had no job, no insurance, no money. It was ridiculous. I had just learned I was HIV-positive. So I went to a support group at Whitman-Walker. A couple of days later, they were helping me move into an apartment." That wasn't an official WhitmanWalker service; it just happened to be what Adam Gale needed. And that's the difference between Whitman-Walker and the usual, unbending social services bureaucracy.

Of course, these days we're not sure we want our social service system to be this good. Too much help, we're told, creates dependency: a helpless, insatiable clientele. Tell that to Kevin Dickerson, who first met a Whitman-Walker staffer at an AIDS education program in the Arlington County Detention Center, where Dickerson was doing time on a drug charge.

Thirty-four-year-old Dickerson was HIV-positive, broke, and addicted to crack. Homeless after finishing his sentence, he spent three months on the street, camping occasionally at the Central Union Mission just down the street from Whitman-Walker. He remembered his jailhouse encounter, but he resisted going into the clinic. Part of it was the stigma of entering a predominantly white, gay clinic; part of it was pride. "For me, it's a very hard thing to ask for help," he says. But one day, he took the plunge. Before long, he was living in one of Whitman-Walker's group homes.

Whitman-Walker's largess didn't immediately transform Dickerson; it inspired him. "You know, I'd ask for a check for medicine or a phone bill or something, then spend it on drugs. But they got wise pretty fast." He came home one night to a confrontation. "They said, We'll hold your stuff for 30 days. You've got a place at the drug treatment unit at George Washington University Hospital."'

The first time, the treatment didn't take. The second time, it did. Today, Dickerson is living with a lover and doesn't need Whitman-Walker's help too often. But his ties to the clinic endure. "I don't always see eye to eye with everyone at the clinic, but Mike, my caseworker, has never let me down. And let me tell you, there's nothing better in the world than being able to call him up and say, Hi, how are you? Everything's going great.

This is how effective social service programs work: intimately, aggressively, with feeling. They know enough about the drug-abusing mother to help her before her kid starts starving; they reach the mentally ill patient before the suicide attempt. They get into your life, but they're not patsies. And still, as the San Francisco model suggests, they won't drive a city into bankruptcy. The D.C. government spent $42 million last year "caring" for 2,000 foster kids. Whitman-Walker's kingdom of social services for 900 people costs an annual $7.5 million. The government picks up half the tab. The rest comes from community groups, foundations, an ungodly number of memorial gifts, and a wide swath of the Washington establishment. Today, real estate ads in the city's gay newspaper quietly note, beneath descriptions of light-filled rooms off Dupont Circle, "Five percent of commission goes to services for people with AIDS." This spring, courtesy of a Whitman-Walker program, a friend of mine made out his will-painstakingly planning who would get his videotapes and favorite leather jacket-with the free help of the corporate law finn Hogan & Hartson.

This winter, D.C.'s foster care caseworkers estimated that, thanks to city government regulations, 80 percent of their time went to paperwork and court appearances. Whitman-Walker's 1,600 volunteers, in contrast, spend their time with people. When Adam Gale passed several weeks in D.C. General, his Whitman-Walker buddy kept him steadily supplied with Whoppers, Cokes, and, well, porno magazines. And when Gale was finally discharged, that buddy was waiting to drive him home. But instead of just dropping him off, the buddy hung out until Gale was strong enough to take over.

Today, Gale feels fine, thank you. But last month, on the advice of his caseworker, he put his name on the list for an apartment in one of Whitman-Walker's group homes. "They told me the waiting list was a year long. They said, Come on, Adam, think ahead.

From bathhouse to your house

The press has long had a tendency to exoticize the gay community. To judge by the mainstream literature of the seventies-the first time gay culture impinged significantly on the mainstream-life was a perpetual pride parade, full of Dykes on Bikes and bathhouse James Deans. It is through that prism of apartness that many have judged the gay community's response to the epidemic in the eighties: a different sort of theater, but theater nonetheless. Praise it they may, but no one asks, 10 years in, what lessons places like Whitman-Walker and Ward 5A hold for other people in need. That," says one Washington social worker, "is a very different world."

In fact, the ordeals and worries of many of the 63,000 Americans with AIDS are similar to those of other troubled people. Many people with AIDS are cut off from their families, with little money. More than half rely on publicly subsidized food and health care, more than a third on public housing. What is different, and crucial, is that they are educated and demanding; the AIDS epidemic marked the united entrance of thousands of members of a middle-class subculture into the welfare state-a place most of us never have to touch. And that subculture brought with it middle-class expectations and middle-class tools for institutional change. Through ACT-UP and less visible advocates, gay groups demanded humane, responsive services. But as they waited for the bureaucracy to come around, they erected a complex architecture of programs that shows government the difference between real service and business as usual.

Ten years after the first diagnosis, gay men's communal response to AIDS almost seems a thing bred in the bone-an instinct for helping so expected now that it inspires hostility from advocates of causes without real estate agents to funnel commissions their way. Yet however we recast it in 1991, sustained community effort was not a reflexive element of gay life in many places outside of San Francisco-and that's precisely what makes the gay community's reaction so rich in possibility. Success was not inevitable. It was astounding, considering the odds.

Perhaps the truest testament to those odds was U.S. government spending. Despite dark prognostications by the Centers for Disease Control, fewer federal dollars were spent in the first two years of AIDS than in the first month of the Tylenol tampering scare. And there was ample discouraging evidence of a less quantifiable kind. Private hospitals from Orange County to Miami barred their emergency room doors. Policemen and undertakers refused to move dead bodies. When Mother Teresa herself tried to start an AIDS hospice in D.C., neighborhood groups went wild. In 1988, Philadelphia's city AIDS commission coolly observed that for the first seven years of the epidemic, virtually all human services for people with AIDS ... were provided by [community organizations] operating on shoestring budgets and relying primarily on volunteers." The first major fundraising effort for AIDS services in New York City came not from the city, state, or federal government ("We have no epidemic, no AIDS crisis," said Deputy Mayor Victor Botnick in 1985), or even from a do-good foundation, but from a few dozen members of New York's pathbreaking Gay Men's Health Crisis who staged a circus at Madison Square Garden.

In Washington, the impetus for the network was the same: a survival mechanism in the face of what some called condign justice. "In 1982, 1983, there was an automatic disenfranchisement of someone who had AIDS," says Dr. Dolph Druckman, director of the HIV Center at D.C. General Hospital. "Hospitals didn't treat them. Community organizations turned them away. Some people were literally kicked out of their beds and left to die. So who picked up the ball? The community." Jim Graham, Whitman-Walker's president in 1982 and now its administrator, doesn't romanticize the effort. "We took the initiative because we had to," he says. "The problem was thrust upon us."

Picking up the ball wasn't easy. In 1983, when Whitman-Walker held its first support group for people with AIDS, not a single person showed. "They won't come forward," Graham said at the time, leaving the obvious reason unspoken. But within months, with the help of the gay weekly, The Washington Blade, momentum had gathered. The first AIDS benefit was a Sunday afternoon tea dance at a Dupont Circle disco. "We raised 4,000," says Graham, which was a phenomenal amount of money at the time." Two months later, with that money, WhitmanWalker held a community forum on AIDS-the first opportunity many gay men had to get the straight dope on a disease the media discussed only politely. "We made a poster and put some ads in the Blade," Graham says, "but we had no idea whether people would come."

Eleven hundred people showed up to hear John Willig, one of the city's first people with AIDS, tell a graphic story of baths, sex, and a horrifying diagnosis. That night, four dozen people signed on as clinic volunteers. A few months later, with a $17,500 city contract, Whitman-Walker hired its first AIDS services staffer. At the time, Graham and others thought the whole "epidemic" might afflict only 15 to 30 D.C. men. Eight years later, Whitman-Walker has served 5,000 Washingtonians.

Programs like those at Whitman-Walker and Ward 5A were the offspring of urgent self-interest, but they have matured into something more complex. Today, the majority of D.C.'s new HIV-positive population is not gay. These new, needier clients-poor, minority, addicted, increasingly female-have brutally exposed the limits of private-sector initiatives; this fall, for the first time, the strapped Gay Men's Health Crisis began turning away people in need. Yet concerted government assistance has helped some of the models adapt. Whitman-Walker's volunteers now serve a surging population of black intravenous drug users and women, while new groups like Impact, Lifelink, and the Inner City AIDS Network have sprung up with government and private sector help to provide services and referrals to the black and latino communities. In Dallas, says Kevin South, director of the AIDS National Interfaith Network, a coalition of community ministries, "We're seeing blue-haired old ladies serving inner-city addicts." And in San Francisco, where the disease quickly overwhelmed the original volunteer pool, new volunteers at the hospices and Ward 5A are as likely to be straight older women as 25-year-old gay men.

By about 1985, when we called for volunteers, people began to say, 'I'm already talking care of a friend with AIDS,' or 'I'm infected myself, " recalls Cliff Morrison. So the definition of "community" had to broaden. The pitch was no longer "Do you have a lover with AIDS?" It was "Do you have a friend, a family member, a coworker?" The answer was often yes. "It's not as easy to recruit volunteers anymore," Morrison says, "but they're still coming."

In this new, expanded AIDS community, class frictions and charges of paternalism divide service providers-dissensions endemic to groups that compete for public funds. But the counterweight to ideology is a powerful one: the specter of the young and dying-not just young and dying gay men, or black men, or latino women with children, but people. And despite political and fundraising tensions, one premise is still shared: Waiting for good social services from existing government channels involves time that people with AIDS don't have.

In mid-March at a small church on 14th Street in D.C., Tim Rogers, coordinator of Whitman-Walker's all-volunteer massage therapy program, has gathered his colleagues to vent. The treatment room is too hot-no, too cold. The woman who washes the sheets needs an escort to the laundromat at night. The tape deck in the treatment room should have an automatic reverse. One fears this meeting, like those of so many nonprofits, will disintegrate in squabbles. But then a 26-year-old man with a hairline by chemo speaks up. "I don't know about the automatic reverse. I'm just pretty happy to be touched." The tapedeck debate is shelved.

Notebook 'em

"Knives over two inches will be confiscated."

These words welcome you to D.C.'s Department of Human Services intake center at 645 H Street NE, the mecca of D.C. residents in need. Past the sullen security guard, beyond the metal detector, is a room ripe with cigarette smoke and bodies. Three hundred or so, many of them children, wait hours to talk to a staff member. Social workers emerge periodically from cubicles, bellowing names.

Volunteers can animate superior services; hospitals can rewrite their rules. But it is here-in public welfare agencies-that the greatest obstacles to, and the greatest potential for, humane care for the disadvantaged lie. The gay community has left its mark here, too.

In D.C., a person who is unemployed, homeless, and disabled must wend her way through four different bureaucracies-the Department of Employment Services, the Office of Emergency Shelter, the Department of Public and Assisted Housing, and the Rehabilitation Administration-to get what is euphemistically called an entitlement. That structure, forbidding even to the healthy, is especially daunting to people with AIDS. In New York City, the clerks who process Medicaid ID cards wear rubber gloves to touch the laminate of clients with AIDS. Leaving a D.C. hospital after surgery, Kevin Dickerson went to DHS to try to locate a missing disability check. His social worker recoiled at his coughing, accusing him of trying to give her AIDS.

"They get nervous," Tony Harding explained mildly on one visit to DHS. "They forget to think." How, then, to make them think?

One way is with the threat of accountability. Waiting for a caseworker at DHS, Harding discreetly pointed out the other people with AIDS in the room-an identification made not by their lesions or emaciation, but by their notebooks. After every conversation, no matter how brief, many Whitman-Walker clients keep records: the name of the clerk, the time, the exact information provided.

In an arena where even basic Medicaid and welfare information can be wildly contradictory, where a paperwork error can get you evicted, the taking of names is a fundamental step in working the system: refusing to let the bureaucracy have no face. On the political level, that insistence plays out in the work of ACT-UP, which targets not institutions, but individuals-Anthony Fauci, Louis Sullivan, offending journalists. On the service level, the targets may be less symbolic-Ms. Smith for A7-T Assistance, Mr. Jones for Medicaid-but the theory holds: A man with poised pencil at DHS can be as formidable a threat to a bureaucrat as a screaming legion at the FDA. Insulted in the emergency room at D.C. General a few weeks before his death-"What can we do?" snapped a clerk. "There's no cure for AIDS"-Tony Harding recorded her name and her comment in his little spiral notebook. Someone would be accountable.

In a better world, decent social services won't have to be extracted by intimidation; they'll be offered out of kindness and concern. But until then, Whitman-Walker has an insurance policy: a Rolodex full of D.C. government contacts to help make the system yield to the man. "If you walk into DHS saying, Hi, Whitman-Walker sent me, and they told me I need x, y, and z,' people are going to jump," says Adam Gale. "But if you walk in and say, Help me, please'-well, good luck."

Left behind in a plastic chair at DHS is evidence of how true that may be: an abandoned, half-filled application for food stamps, written in a childlike hand. Perhaps tired of waiting, perhaps confounded by the form, a 19-year-old woman with an hispanic surname and a one-year-old child has just slipped, one supposes, through the cracks.

Networks don't work miracles. Tony Harding spent all day, in two different offices five miles apart, trying to file for Medicaid and extend his AZT assistance. He was still waiting in the second office when the security guard expelled him at the 4:30 closing time. Along with three dozen other expelled people, he went home frustrated. But when he opened his apartment door, the phone was ringing. It was a D.C. government social worker who had waited past quitting time to reach him. She'd found the forms he needed. They filled them out together, on the phone, against the rules.

It is difficult, undeniably, to mine cosmic good out of 110,000 complicated deaths, Yet the AIDS network offers, if we want it, a small but potent suggestion. A united community effort can supplement-and even change-government's discouraging response to people in need. What it will take now, from the rest of us, is the same expanded sense of community that marks AIDS activism in 1991. That is, enough people willing to recognize that their self-interest lies not just in their backyards, but in their neighborhoods and even their cities-and then to translate that self-interest into efforts even government can't ignore. Impossible? A decade ago, it looked that way.

At Tony Harding's memorial service at a downtown club in February, two people slipped in after the early throng of mourners. It took a minute for Tony's friends to place their faces. His D.C. government social worker His doctor from D.C General. The possibilities, it seemed that night, were endless.
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Author:Boo, Katherine
Publication:Washington Monthly
Date:Jun 1, 1991
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